AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: jcfitzy

New Spacesuit Technology?


In a recent experiment, scientists have discovered a way in which to bombard fruit fly larvae with electrons, which form a “nano-suit” around their bodies protecting them from harmful space-like vacuums. This new discovery is very interesting because it could lead to the possible invention of new space suits for humans while also giving us video imaging into the organs of small organisms such as larvae.

The reason why these scientists were experimenting with these larvae were to figure out how to photograph them with enough resolution to capture the muscle cells of the organism. This process, however, is a deadly one. The microscope used in photographing these organisms need a vacuum because air molecules absorb the electrons that the camera needs to take the picture. Without this suit, the larvae simply collapse of dehydration. Takahiko Hariyama of the Hamamatsu University School of Medicine bombarded the larvae with the cameras electrons before placing it in the scanning electron microscope and the larvae survived for an hour. They discovered that the electrons’ energy changed the skin of the larvae, forming a protective barrier through polymerization. This layer of 50-100 billionths thick, protected the larvae from losing its liquids and gasses.

This technology is still in its early stages and could take years before scientists can find a way to use it. People hypothesize that one day we might be able to create a layered suit as thin as this that can protect us from radiation in space. I am very excited to see how this technology progresses in the next few years.

Understanding HIV, one protein at a time

By NIAID/NIH (NIAID Flickr’s photostream) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In a recent study, scientists at Johns Hopkins University have narrowed down a list of 25 human proteins that HIV viruses target the most. The scientists started by studying the HIV-1virus, which is the most infectious and most common type of HIV. They knew that the virus clings to proteins and membrane as it emerges from an infected human cell in order to disguise itself from the human immune system, but inquired as to whether it was a random process or not. They then searched for types of proteins that they targeted the most, using the HIV-1.

They virus tends to target the CD4+ T cells and microphages which both migrate to sites of inflammation. This makes sense because HIV targets the immune system and  the virus can wait to attack while disguised by these cells. They originally identified 279 proteins that this virus in particular targeted when isolating the HIV-1 with CD4+ T cells, but when they crossed the data from two different cell types, they found that only 25 proteins were shared by viruses from both cell types!

This is an extremely interesting and groundbreaking discovery because of the possibilities behind this discovery. If we can figure out the types of proteins these HIV viruses are hiding behind, we could target and destroy them which could possibly lead to the abolition of HIV.

Incredible New Gene-Searching Software

MIKI Yoshihito

Joseph T. Glessner, of the Center for Applied Genomics at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia recently invented a new software tool that will revolutionize accuracy in genetic disease studies. The software called ParseCNV is an algorithm that “detects copy number variation associations with higher levels of  accuracy than that available in existing software,” says Mr. Glessner. This incredible software automatically corrects for variations in the length of deleted or duplicated DNA sequences from one individual to another and produces high quality, replicable results for researchers studying genetic diseases.

CNV stands for copy number variations which are sequences of DNA, ranging from 1000 to millions of nucleotide bases, which may be deleted or duplicated. These CNV’s are very difficult to find because they are so rare but so important in the discovery of genetic diseases. Previous methods to find the link between CNV’s and disease involved individual case-control studies, in which diseased DNA is compared to healthy DNA. This method does not work accurately because different people have different CNV’s which can effect the outcome of the diagnosis.

ParseCNV is incredible in that it can account for and adjust to so many differences in genes and has so much versatility in that it is applicable to family studies and quantitative analyses of continuous traits. I am really looking forward to seeing the future of this amazing algorithm and its contributions to genetic research.

Grapefruit and Drug Reactions

For years people did not know the consequences of eating grapefruit while taking certain prescription medications until now. Last month Dr. David Bailey, a Canadian researcher who discovered this interaction years ago, published a list of 85 different drugs on the market that can have life-threatening effects when mixed with grapefruit. In fact 43 of the 85 could be lethal. This is very scary information that before recently, doctors were not fully aware of what caused these reactions.

According to this article, a 42 year old woman was taken to the emergency room because of a drug overdose. She had a decreasing heart rate and falling blood pressure. She had been taking a medication called verapamil for migraines although the doctors found a huge amount of the drug after a blood test. The doctors found out that grapefruit juice was the only thing she could bear to eat or drink when she had these migraines which increased the potency of the drug. Doctors later found out that other juices cause this same effect when in the presence of other drugs.

The way to prevent these reactions is simply to be aware of the drugs that you are taking and what juices will effect these drugs in what way. Age can also be a large contributor to how these drugs effect our systems. As you get older the grapefruit juice increases the potency even more than when we are young. This article then is not to scare you into thinking juice can kill us when mixed with a simple cholesterol lowering drug, but to make you more aware next time you see that fresh grapefruit on the counter!

Photo by mjp*

Do blind mole rats hold the cure for cancer?

Approximately 23% of humans die from cancer, whereas blind mole rats are practically immune to this devastating disease.

Recently at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, a study was made on blind mole rats and their peculiar avoidance of contracting cancer. This study looked specifically on a type of cell destruction known as necrosis, where a chemical called interferon-beta which is used to fight viruses caused the cells of these blind mole rats to violently burst open and die.

These blind mole rats aren’t the only ones that have developed methods of fighting caner. Naked mole rats, another long living subterranean relative of the guinea pig, used a cell-death program that turns on when the cell gets overcrowded. Biologists have thought for years that blind mole rats probably did the same thing until they dug a little deeper.

Apoptosis is the form of cell destruction that we are all familiar with where the cell self-destructs from the inside. Because of their low-oxygen environments, blind mole rats have developed a mutation in a cancer-fighting protein called p53. This prevents the cells from performing apoptosis, where it would be life-threatening considering their environment. This caused the mole rats to develop another method in order to fight cancerous tumors.

Necrosis is normally very dangerous and damage healthy tissues when killing tumors while also causing inflammation, but in this case, the mole rat stays perfectly healthy. What causes this? These scientists are currently trying to find out what triggers the release of the chemical, how it doesn’t harm the mole rats healthy cells, and how necrosis in these cells don’t cause any inflammation at all.

This discovery is very interesting and can be very useful in the quest to find a cure for cancer in the future. If we continue to look at the different ways in which these rodents fight cancer, we can hopefully adapt some of their ways to cancer in humans which can change history.

Single Molecule Solar Cell

Photo by Vermont-USA Anna Strumillo

In a recent study, German scientists Joachim Reichert, Johannes Barth, Alexander Holleitner, and Itai Carmeli came up with a way to measure photocurrents of a single functionalized  photosynthetic protein system.

What does this mean exactly?

These proteins can be used like electron pumps that can trap energy from the light and use it to power certain nanoscale electrocal circuits.

These scientists studied Photosystem 1 and like plants use photosynthesis to take rays of light and convert them to energy, these proteins covert solar rays into chemical energy that can be used in much the same way.

This discovery is still in its early stages and if perfected can be life changing. If they can create this system on a larger scale, light would be much easier to trap and use as energy than todays solar panels. This discovery is very interesting because we need alternative sources of energy that can be used sooner rather than later. If we can perfect this method it can be very beneficial to this planet because it is not harmful to the environment.

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