AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: harrisynthesis

CRISPR to the Rescue

If you are reading this right now, it means you are not blind. Aren’t you so fortunate to have healthy vision? Others aren’t as lucky. The genetic disorder of blindness is something that effects many people.  However, what if I told you that there may be a way to prevent the passing of a genetic mutation such as blindness? It’s called CRISPR.

Before I get into how CRISPR can help prevent blindness, must know what CRISPR is. CRISPR, short for CRISPR-Cas9, is a tool used for editing genes of organisms by modifying the DNA. By changing the DNA sequence, this causes for a change in gene function. Essentially, CRISPR acts as a scissor that is able to cut and edit the DNA sequence.

The way genes are manipulated is by having the components of one CRISPR sent over to another CRISPR, which then alters the structure of the sequence manually, and is called “gene editing”. This phenomenon was discovered only in 2017 when a University in Japan was able to capture and reveal to the world the exact process of this gene editing. Genes are compromised of chemical bases that bind together to form a sequence and every sequence creates something different. For example the sequence GATC when genetically edited with CRISPR can turn into CATG by just switching the C and G. This may seem small but can have a much larger effect on the organism.

This method can directly be used to alter the genetic mutation that causes blindness in a person by finding the spot in the genetic code in that is the root of the mutation and editing it to become normal. Another new way that CRISPR gene editing can be used is to combat sickle cell disease. This disease that causes the creation of mutated hemoglobin resulting in blood clots can also be fixed. Sickle cell disease effects 100,000 people in the US, and can only currently be treated with bone marrow transplants, but this can lead to other health issues according to Dr. Markus Mapara who studies CRISPR. DNA orbit animated

Through CRISPR, as found by Dr. Dounda and Dr. Charpentier, they can direct the Cas9 protein part of CRISPR, through a programable RNA, to locate specific areas of genetic code, in particular ones that are the root of a mutation that causes health issues such as Sickle cell disease. As we mentioned before, the CRISPR can then remove and replace the specific area with one that doesn’t result in the genetic mutation.

While there may be other treatments for these diseases, CRISPR is certainly the safer, healthier, and more effective way to combat them. They also haven’t had too much research on it yet, so we are only getting more and more information as time goes on. I personally don’t have any genetic mutations that I know of, but I know many people who do and who this could help. Hopefully we will be able to master the technique and put an end to genetic mutations!


Gasping For Air

Fish! We all love fish, right? From enjoying amazing fish taco to gazing at their beauty at an aquarium, fish are a very important part of many cultures. However, the fish are in need of our help. Climate change is rapidly increasing, the ocean’s waters, and we need to step in before it’s too late.

A study analyzing the climate suggests that the rising temperatures of the ocean as a result of climate change are directly impacting the ocean’s ecosystems. The warmer the water, the less availability there is for oxygen to dissolve, which is why there is much less algae and other sea life in warmer places like Florida or the Caribbean. It may seem like the oceans in these tropical places are much cleaner and healthier because of the beautiful crystal clear waters, but it is quite the opposite. In waters in the Northeast, the darker green water is primarily due to the large amount of plant life as a result of the plentiful amount of oxygen dissolved in the waters.

This deoxygenation of the waters can become detrimental to the ocean’s sea life if left ignored. It is estimated that 70% of the ocean’s sea life will be suffocating due to climate change by the year 2080. It may seem far away, but if left ignored, it will come faster than expected.

The layer of the ocean that is most effected is known as the mesopelagic zone. This zone is roughly 200-1000 meters from the surface, so unlike the surface region, does not get the same amount of oxygen from photosynthesis. As we learned in class, plants need light to perform photosynthesis, and as the ocean gets deeper, there is less light available, meaning less photosynthesis to be done, and therefore less oxygen available to the marine life.

Large fish school

This zone is home to most of the fish that we eat as a result of commercial fishing, which is why it is so important we begin to fix the issue. Fish is a staple food in many different countries and cultures, and if we let the ocean heat up too much, their availability is at severe risk.

Studies show that by lowering greenhouse gas emission, we can slow down the rate of global warming and therefore preserve our precious oceans. This is not going to happen over night, and requires everyone to help out. There’s no greater time than the present, so let’s start saving our oceans one step at a time!


Omicron: The Latest Invader

As it has been for the past few years, COVID-19 is the talk of the town. However, just when things seemed to be dying down, a new variant made its way into our lives. It goes by the name “Omicron”.

Unlike the past two variants, Delta and Mu, Omicron presents a whole new dilemma in the fight against COVID-19. After Delta took the world by storm with significantly greater infection rates than Mu, seemingly nothing could get worse. However, over 30 mutations to the spike proteins of the virus now trumps Omicron above all other variants. Identified in South Africa on November 24, 2021, Omicron has already made its way to many other countries around the world, including the US.

The threat of Omicron derives from its ability to resist the effects of the antibodies of the vaccine due to the changes in the protein structures. As we learned in our AP Biology class recently, the vaccine works by stimulating the production of plasma B cells, which secrete antibodies to identify and neutralize the antigen of the COVID-19 virus by recognizing the spike proteins, as well as B memory cells that exist to prevent further infection of the virus. The many changes to the spike protein make the antibodies unable to properly detect and neutralize it, allowing for the virus to continue to spread throughout our bodies. Virologist Penny Moore warns of the reduced effects the vaccine will have against Omicron, as well as the exponentially faster infection rates that pose threat to the world.

6VSB spike protein SARS-CoV-2 monomer in homotrimer

A recent study from a South African virologist, Alex Sigal, isolates blood samples from 12 Omicron infected patients who have been vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. The study shows that the antibodies from the vaccine are nearly forty times less effective against Omicron than the other two variants. This uncovers that the vaccine may not be efficient enough to combat the new virus. Sigal’s experiment also found that people previously infected with the virus held stronger immunity to Omicron than those with the vaccination. This is due to the fact that natural B memory cells made are able to evolve for multiple months to help fight against COVID-19 while B memory cells from the vaccine only evolve for a few weeks. Though, the experiment was not done with enough patients to make a certain conclusion.

Although, there is a glimpse of hope to retain some immunity against Omicron using the booster shot. Pfizer-BioNtech research has indicated that the third dose of the vaccine can produce antibody levels against Omicron that closely resemble the antibody levels of only two shots against the prior variants. Scientists have begun to branch off from the traditional concept of stimulating production of plasma B-cells to create antibodies in hope to find a new way to trigger the immune system to adapt to new COVID-19 variants. Biologist Jesse Bloom suggests a deeper dive into the function of T-cells, particularly cytotoxic T-killer cells, and their ability to destroy cells already infected with the virus.

Omicron poses severe potential threats to the state of the world with its fast infection rate and immunity to the vaccine. The studies of the few infected patients with Omicron do not seem to promising, but not enough has been collected about Omicron to determine its true potential. The only thing we can do now is hope for the best!



“I Wanna Live Forever Young”

Aging: the inevitable… or so we thought. Don’t get too excited, aging is apart of every living organisms’ life, and it always will be. Besides growing old as a downside itself, the real worry of aging is all of the diseases that you grow prone too. But what if there was a way to change that? What if there was a way to grow old healthily? In this blog post, I am going to be explaining how cellular modifications can potentially change the future of aging forever.

In order to understand how to prevent aging, we must understand how aging occurs in the first place. One of the main causes of aging roots from the mitochondria. The mitochondria is the source of energy for the cell and is responsible for cellular respiration. It also is independent from the cell, so it has its own DNA known as mtDNA. As time goes on, exposure to toxic products within the cell begins to cause the mitochondria’s DNA (mtDNA) to mutate. The build up of this mutation in mtDNA eventually causes the cell to function improperly, causing respiratory chain disfunction and many cell degenerative diseases. Common diseases due to mtDNA mutations are Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers, and Huntington’s disease. Mitochondrial dysfunction can also lead to the damaging of nerve function- another side effect of old age. In our AP Biology class, we learned about the significant role the mitochondria has on cell function and how it came to be apart of the cell through the Endosymbiont Theory. This theory mentions the mitochondria’s own DNA, which we are diving into today to understand the effects of genetic mutation in the mitochondria and how we might combat it.

Mitochondrion (standalone version)-en


Professor and disease research specialist Ming Guo dives into how we can achieve healthier aging by combating mtDNA mutation. The only way to do this would be to rid the cell of mutant mtDNA and restore mitochondrial function. In order to understand how to do this, Guo conducts an experiment with Professor Bruce Hay involving fruit flies. Fruit flies share 80% of their disease genetics with humans, making them a viable option to begin testing on. Guo observed that by forcing the cell into autophagy, the cell will remove damaged cell parts and therefore restore proper cell function. By starving the cell, the cell is forced to eat damaged parts of itself, including mutated mitochondrial DNA, in order to survive. The term “autophagy” can be broken in to two terms: “auto” and “phagy”. “Auto” refers to “self” and “phagy” means “eat”. In essence, autophagy means, “self eating”, as seen through the cells digestion of its own damaged parts. This gets inevitably prevents mutations of the cell that damage cognitive function and mobility that usually come with old age. In our AP Bio class, we also discussed autophagy, or the removal of waste from a cell through the use of lysosomes.

The findings of this study shed light on how to counter mtDNA mutation through triggering cellular processes, such as autophagy, at a more efficient level than the cell previously had.  On average, triggering autophagy in a cell gets rid of 95% of its mutated mitochondrial DNA. Guo and Hay’s findings are only just the beginning. Now that it is understood how to prevent mitochondrial DNA mutation, scientists must discover specific drugs on how to activate the cellular processes in a way that is safe, easy to administer, and available to the public. The answer to healthy aging, and longer lasting cognitive function that goes with it, is just around the corner!

I chose this topic because aging is inevitable for everybody, therefore it is relevant to every single person. Also, being that my family has a history with age related diseases, this topic particularly interests me. Ever since I was a kid, I would hear things like “You’ll be able to live to 200 the way technology is advancing” all of the time. This discovery is a huge step on making that statement a reality. Hopefully aging will soon become a less dreadful concept and people will live to be happier and healthier.





Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar