AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: ionizingjadeation

Vitamin E acetate: the cause of deadly vaping outbreak?

This article highlights the discovery of a chemical that could potentially be responsible for wide-spread vaping-related lung injuries and deaths in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researches acquired bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (fluid from the lining of the lungs) from health care workers who were taking care of patients with vaping associated lung injuries, or EVALI. The result of this was samples from 29 patients from 10 states.

The researches announced on November 8th in a news briefing and a report that they found vitamin E acetate in the lung fluid samples of all the patients suffering from vaping illnesses. Vitamin E acetate has been previously found by health officials in various vaping products used by patients. Interestingly enough, vitamin E acetate is largely used as a dietary supplement along with being an ingredient in various skin care products. Even though it is safe when used as such, research shows how this chemical can be harmful when inhaled.

New York state health officials announced in September that they had discovered high levels of vitamin E acetate in samples taken from the vaping products shown above.

Vitamin E acetate acts as a diluting and thickening ingredient in vaping products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Most EVALI patients have reported using THC-containing vaping products along with products containing nicotine. The researchers also tested for other chemical additives that act as diluting ingredients (plants and mineral oils); however, none were detected. 2,051 people across all states besides Alaska have been reported with EVALI and 39 people have died.

While this finding is a great step forward in finding the cause of these vaping-related injuries and deaths, Anne Schuchat, a principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, believes that “we still have more to learn” and “that more than one ingredient could be responsible.” Similarly, this new finding leaves me very hopeful in exposing the source of vaping-related injuries and deaths but I definitely believe that there is still much more research that needs to be done.

Exercise causes changes in our gut microbes, but how is unclear

Sarah Campbell was just beginning her assistant professorship in exercise and science at Rutgers University when she became curious about whether exercise could influence microbes in the gut. As an athlete and also having studied cholesterol metabolism and exercise and diet during her PhD and postdoc, she decided that she wanted to pursue the study of exercise and its affect on gut microbes.

Sarah Campell combined forces with microbiologists and toxicologists from Rutgers and a pathologist from Oklahoma City to create an experiment to analyze fecal samples of male mice who are fed a normal or high-fat diet for 12 weeks. Some of the mice in each group were allowed to exercise while others weren’t. The results revealed that physical activity created a unique microbiome in the guts of mice, independent of the diets of the mice. The mice that exercised hosted Faecalibacterium, Clostridium, and Aloobaculum, unlike the sedentary mice. The high-fat diet also led to inflammation in the guts of the mice who didn’t exercise, and this was not seen in the mice that ate a fatty diet and exercised.

The following picture is of gut microbiota (microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of humans)

The results of this experiment reinforced findings that came out a few years before that showed how exercise prevented weight gain and altered the gut microbes in mice that became obese while eating a high-fat diet. The results of the experiment also aligned nicely with a study that found that lean, sedentary people who exercised for six weeks developed increased levels of Clostridiales, Lachnospira, Roseburia, and Faecalobacterium in their guts. In addition, the study showed how these microbes returned back to baseline levels once the individuals stopped exercising. Obese individuals who began exercising also had changes to their gut microbes; however, these changes were different than those seen in the lean individuals.

Even though the reasons for the difference in changes between the obese and lean individuals aren’t fully understood, the results clearly show how exercise can change the gut microbiota of humans, regardless of diet or body composition.

Dead Pig Brains Were Brought Back to Life…Kind Of

A recent article published by Christof Koch raises the question of if death is really as final as it seems.

Koch highlights a study undergone by a sizable team of physicians and scientists at Yale School of Medicine, led by Nenad Sestan. This group used hundreds of slaughtered pigs from the Department of Agriculture to carry out a rather extraordinary experiment. 

The experiment began with the removal of the pig brains from the pigs’ skulls. The veins and carotid arteries were then connected to a perfusion device that created the effect of a heart beating. This perfusion device circulated a synthetic concoction, or a type of artificial blood, containing drugs and oxygen with a specific molecular constitution that would protect the cells from damage. Sestan’s team studied these pig brains’ capability to survive four hours after the pigs had been electrically stunned, bled out, and decapitated. His team also compared these pig brains with others that were not connected to a perfusion device. 

A closer look on a pig brain (not from the actual experiment)

The tissue integrity of the pig brains that were connected to the perfusion device was preserved and there was also a decrease of the swelling that causes cells to die. In addition, synapses, neurons, and output wires (axons) looked normal. The glial cells, which support neurons, had some function, and the brain consumed glucose and oxygen. This means that there was some metabolic functioning. The researchers seemed very satisfied with their findings and titled their paper “Restoration of Brain Circulation and Cellular Functions Hours Post-mortem.”

However, brain waves, like those from EEG recordings, were not found in the pigs’ brains that were connected to the perfusion device. There were electrodes put on the surface of the brains but no great global electrical activity was recorded. This, although, was intended. In theory, bringing a pig that had just gone through such trauma back to life could’ve led to a number of horrible side effects. Some include massive epileptic seizures, delirium, deep-seated pain, distress, and psychosis. It was because of this fact that Sestan’s team ensured the artificial blood contained drugs that suppress neuronal function. 

According to Koch, this experiment causes a new question to surface: “What would happen if the team were to remove the neural-activity blockers from the solution suffusing the brain?”. In reality, it is probable that nothing would happen. Even though some neurons responded to the stimulation doesn’t mean that millions would be able to. However, it can’t be completely disregarded that maybe with some external support the seemingly dead brains can be brought back to life.

Keeping this in mind, one may wonder if this can be applied to human brains. The pig brain is the most popular laboratory animal as it has a fairly large brain that has a folded cortex similar to that of a human brain. Because of this, in theory, the human brain could undergo the same experiment. Even so, the question of if this would really be ethical or not is a factor that should definitely be taken into consideration.

If possible, do we have the right to bring dead brains back to life?

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