AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: hydropherick

Could Overproducing A Gene Prevent Parkinson’s Disease?

A team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) discovered a gene that, when overexpressed, prevents the development of Parkinson’s disease in fruit flies and mice. Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder caused by a brain disorder. Parkinson’s disease symptoms typically appear gradually and worsen over time. Men are affected by the disease at a rate that is roughly half that of women. A combination of genetic and environmental factors contributes to the disease’s underlying cause.

Emi Nagoshi, Professor in the Department of Genetics and Evolution at the UNIGE Faculty of Science, studies the mechanisms of dopaminergic neuron degeneration using the fruit fly. The midbrain dopaminergic neurons are the primary source of dopamine in the central nervous system. Their absence is linked to Parkinson’s disease. Emi’s test connects to the Fer2 gene, whose human homolog encodes a protein that regulates the expression of many other genes and whose mutation may lead to Parkinson’s disease through unknown mechanisms. 

The absence of Fer2 causes Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms, the researchers investigated whether increasing the amount of Fer2 in the cells could provide protection. When flies are exposed to free radicals in their environment, such as toxins, their cells undergo oxidative stress, which leads to the degradation of dopaminergic neurons. By creating mutants of the Fer2 Homolog in mouse dopaminergic neurons, the scientists were able to show that oxidative stress has no negative effect on the flies if they overproduce Fer2, confirming the hypothesis of its protective role. They discovered abnormalities of these neurons, as well as defects in movement patterns in aged mice, just as they did in the flies.

Alleles on gene

Genes can have alleles, which give different traits to different people.

In comparison with our unit, the Fer2 provides the understanding of how the molecules that make up cells determine the behavior of in this case mice and fruit flies. Each is made up of nucleotides that are arranged in a linear fashion that resides in a specific location on a chromosome. Most genes encode for a specific protein or protein segment that results in a specific characteristic or function, such as providing a protective barrier towards Parkinson’s disease.




Can CRISPR-Cas9 Cause Unwanted Change?

Dieter Egli, a biologist at Columbia University whose main goal is to better understand the differences in DNA duplication between cell types, how these differences affect genetic stability, and how certain differences affect people’s functional relevance. CRISPR-Cas9, a powerful gene-editing tool, can have serious side effects in human embryonic cells. In some cases, the consequences of these errors can be quite severe, prompting them to discard large chunks of their genetic material. 

CRISPR-Cas9 is an innovative technology that allows researchers to edit parts of genes by removing, adding, or changing sections of the DNA sequence. It is a faster, cheaper, and more accurate DNA editing technique than others such as genome editing. These techniques enable researchers to investigate the function of the gene. Researchers can use these systems to permanently modify genes in living cells and organisms, and in the future, they may be able to correct mutations at specific locations in the genetic code to treat genetic causes of disease such as blindness

DNA Repair-colourfriendly

Adapted to be accessible to those with red-green colorblindness, this image depicts DNA repair after a CRISPR-Cas9 double-strand break.

CRISPR-Cas9 embryos and other kinds of human cells have already demonstrated that editing chromosomes can cause unwanted effects. This can be in relation to the unpredictability of the repair due to the fact of different cells react differently to gene editing. Another possibility for the CRISPR-Cas9 treatment not working efficiently is a change made to sperm, eggs, or embryos that can be passed down to future generations, raising the stakes for any mistakes made along the way. An example of this would be CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing on early-stage human embryos with a mutation in the gene called eyes shut homolog, which causes hereditary blindness.

CRISPR–Cas9 efficiently edits the genome in a variety of cell types and whole organisms, repairing genetic mutations, removing pathogenic DNA sequences, and turning genes on or off in Gene Regulation, where the appropriate gene is expressed to help an organism respond to its environment.




Could BOS172722 Help Boost Response to Aggressive Breast Cancer?

Spiros Linardopoulos, leader of the research focuses on identifying gene targets for which new anticancer drugs can be developed, as well as patient categories that would benefit from treatment. “We urgently need to find new options to stop more women dying,” says Linardopoulos. Triple-negative breast cancer is characterized by the absence of estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and an excess of the HER2 protein. HER2 protein promotes the growth of cancer cells. Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for 10-20% of all breast cancers. There is a great deal of interest among doctors and researchers in discovering new medications that can treat this type of breast cancer. A new generation of therapies is being developed to prevent this.

Breast cancer cells (1)

Breast cancer cells that have grown out the passageways and into the surrounding tissue displacing normal cells.

BOS172722, for example, has been shown in animal studies to improve the efficiency of paclitaxel, the main chemotherapy used to treat triple-negative breast cancer. Paclitaxel works on cell division but can be insufficient because some cancer cells can escape and become resistant to the drug, leaving the problem unaddressed. What makes BOS172722 much more efficient than the main chemotherapy treatment? BOS172722 is intended to force cells to divide rapidly, resulting in cell death. According to research, Cancer cells grown and treated with BOS172722 were observed to divide in 11 minutes versus 52 minutes without the drug, an immense improvement. “If it proves effective, this could be expanded to include lung and ovarian cancers,” says Linardopoulos. BOS172722 is a new treatment that uses cancer’s rapid growth against it by forcing cells through cell division, destroying tumors, and extending patients’ lives.

Breast cancer is caused by the uncontrollable growth of breast cells. Cancer develops as a result of mutations, or abnormal changes, in the genes that regulate cell growth to keep them healthy. They change their metabolism to support their expansion and spread throughout the body. If a cell has a mutated suppressor gene, then the cell can turn into cancer. Cancer cells have been shown to undergo characteristic changes in their metabolic programs, such as increased glucose rates, implying that metabolic shifts support cell growth and survival.




Could protein-based vaccines change the course of the pandemic?

Current mRNA vaccines provide sufficient protection against new SARS-CoV-2 variants, including Omicron, particularly for those who have received boosters. However, due to high manufacturing costs and the requirement for ultra-cold refrigeration, these vaccines are limited in low and middle-income countries. Protein-based vaccines have the potential to be much less expensive to manufacture on a large scale than mRNA vaccines and may not require ultra-cold storage. Protein vaccines would aid in delivering more vaccines to areas of the world where vaccination rates are currently extremely low, such as Africa to the lack of vaccines.

A research program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine (PCMM) is presenting a new strategy to build a better vaccine to directly target the antigen cells with a protein-based vaccine. This is not the first time we hear about protein vaccines; they have been around for decades now to protect others from hepatitis, shingles, and other infections. The protein-based vaccine will deliver proteins while also stimulating the immune system to respond to the vaccine more aggressively directed to the person’s cells. The protein-based vaccine will also enable a more efficient T cell response and high antibody production across variants while causing fewer side effects than other Covid-19 shots.

T Regulatory Cells

T regulatory cells (red) interact with antigen-presenting cells (blue) in a microscope image.

In connection to cell-to-cell communication, protein-based vaccines rely on the T cells to target the infected cells. The T-helper cells are able to divide and create two different types of cells. The T killer cell kills infected cells with the virus. Others, called T memory cells, stimulate the production of antibodies to prevent reinfection. In addition, the primary immune response will expose some of the antigens but the secondary immune response facilitates a faster, stronger, and longer response to the antigen produced due to the memory cells. 

Could Protein-based vaccines be used instead of the mRNA-based vaccines that are currently approved to protect against Covid-19?





Researchers Vacuum Animals DNA Out Of The Air

Elizabeth Claire, a U.K. professor led the study of focusing on the ecological challenge by developing methods such as using filters attached to vacuum pumps to measure biodiversity and analyze the effects of environmental change on species interaction. Finding out where endangered species live is part of protecting them. Researchers claim to have discovered a powerful new method for draining DNA from the air. Scientists have discovered that the air we breathe contains detectable traces of animals that may live nearby, and this discovery has the potential to change the way researchers monitor and track populations of susceptible or endangered species. Filtering animal environmental DNA (eDNA) has the potential to provide a far more advanced method of studying and monitoring biodiversity. 

Eurasian hedgehogs introduced to the island of Coll by Alick Simmons

Research indicates that DNA in environmental necessities like water, soil, or air has the potential to determine the biodiversity of organisms present and is necessary for eDNA filtering. Elizabeth has collected samples testing the theory of vacuuming the eDNA from surrounding animals at the Hamerton Zoo Park in the U.K. where “sequencing ultimately identified DNA from 25 different species.” Most interestingly, the researchers discovered some zoo animals outside of their enclosures at a distance of nearly 300 meters. One of them is the endangered Erinaceus europaeus. This leads to the question, How far can animal eDNA travel in the air?

Applications of environmental DNA metabarcoding in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems

In addition, the use of vacuuming DNA from the air allows the researchers to distinguish the characteristics of the animals. This article is relevant to our class because it discusses the relationship between DNA and the cell structure of an animal, which the vacuum pump discovers in its environment. As illustrated by the image above, in environmental studies, DNA metabarcoding is the ideal method for examining genes of various backgrounds such as those animals identified outside of their enclosures. 

This new method will allow many more endangered animals to be provided with a stable environment, while also allowing scientists to learn more about this opportunity in the hopes of using it for environmental protection.

Revealing Plant Evolution Using a ‘Ray Gun’

Dawson White, a postdoctoral researcher at Chicago’s Field Museum studies global patterns of plant diversity and the forces that have influenced them. His interest in Plant Evolution has grown over time, allowing him to learn more about the fascinating world of plant diversity. Dawson White states that “In this study, we’ve shown that you can use light instead of DNA to define plant populations, at a similar level of detail. This method is a lot faster and cheaper than genetic testing.” Normally, DNA analysis is required to determine whether two plants are of the same population. In this new study, scientists discovered that the reflection of light off of their leaves is much faster and more efficient.

MODIS sensor

Spectroradiometers are instruments that can determine the amount of light and wavelengths reflected off a surface. Researchers use this handheld device, also known as a “Ray Gun,” to record the genetic variation of plants. This instrument reads the visible and infrared light that bounces off the plants, and the data it provides can be used to assist Agricultural Scientists in detecting diseases as well as the chemistry and structure of the plant.

Using the Spectroradiometer to look at the light reflected from the leaves is a quick and accurate substitute for the lengthy genetic testing where samples need to be collected, stored, moved to a lab, and then go through the many steps to sequence the plants and genetic code, becoming a process that takes weeks or even months. On the other hand when using the “Ray Gun” it is faster to determine whether a plant population is genetically unique such as the Dryas alaskensis and Dryas amanuensis which were proved to be genetically different while in the same environment. The ability to distinguish one genetic population of plants from another is critical for scientists working to protect a threatened population.


This article relates to our Biology class because of DNA barcoding and how it uses information from genes to identify a specific cell line. Researchers have a tool useful to explore and learn more about wildlife due in part to DNA barcoding. The strengths of genetics and DNA barcoding are combined to create a species that is accurate, named, and described. Plants use DNA as their genetic material and can be found in the nucleus, mitochondria, and chloroplast. The Mitochondria are responsible for the reproduction of energy while the Mitochondrial DNA has a high mutation rate useful to trace genetic information. Plant DNA Barcoding involves two steps to differentiate plants: first, creating a DNA barcode library of known species, and then matching an unknown sample’s DNA barcode sequence against the DNA barcode library.


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