AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: jednetic

Meeting Your Great Great Great… Grandchildren

The MDI Biological Lab along with the Buck Institute of Research on Aging have discovered cell pathways that could increase the human lifespan by 400-500%. “The increase in lifespan would be the equivalent of a human living for 400 or 500 years.” The implications this would have are immense along with some potential drawbacks, but let’s get into the science first.

The research was conducted on C. elegans, a nematode, because “it shares many of its genes with humans and because its short lifespan of only three to four weeks.” The short lifespan allows scientists to quickly see the effects of their efforts to extend the healthy lifespan. The keyword here is “healthy” because prolonging life means nothing unless you can extend the quality as well. The scientists used a double mutant in the insulin signaling and TOR pathways. The alteration in the insulin pathway yields a 100% increase in lifespan and the TOR pathway yields a 30% increase. The incredible discovery though was that when combined the new lifespan was amplified by 500%!! The expected yield was 130%.

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Here depicted is a diagram showing the meaning of a double mutant.

Researchers still say “the discovery in C. elegans of cellular pathways that govern aging, it hasn’t been clear how these pathways interact.” This discovery does lead to the mindset that the important methods of anti-aging are in the interactions between cellular pathways rather than singular pathways. This newly found interaction could also explain why scientists have had trouble discovering “the gene” the governs aging. The combinations of these treatments are described as being similar to the “way that combination therapies are used to treat cancer and HIV.”

It’s odd to picture a world where this treatment could be considered “cosmetic” in a way. Eventually, the human lifespan could expand to hundreds of years with some even living to 1000. The implications that this could have are a current problem we have of overpopulation. It is farfetched, but this would help immensely with the mission to expand into space. The ability to survive with hundreds of years on a potential “colony ship” allows humans to expand to other planets where we would be able to expand greatly. I’ll end with a question: If this treatment was 100% safe and affordable, would you get it? Why or why not?

Discovering and Using Your Personal, Biological, Tiny Army

Bacteria is an important part of our biology, so important that we are essentially 99% bacteria. A lot of this bacteria is part of the human gut microbiome. This topic has been picking up interest in the field of biology, and have shown linkage to many diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. Not only do the bacteria in our gut play a role in preventing these diseases, but their symbiotic relationship helps us maintain metabolic functions.

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This is a depiction of the numerous types of bacteria in our microbiome.

Until recently we were unable to study these bacteria due to our inability to cultivate them in a lab; however, due to new advancements in sequencing technology we can now see how big of  role they play in our biology and our functions. These bacteria are “estimated to harbor 50- to 100-fold more genes, compared to the hose. These extra genes have added various type of enzymatic proteins which were non-encoded by the host, and play a critical role in facilitating host metabolism.” For example, gut microbiata is very important in fermenting unabsorbed starches. These bacteria also aid in the production of ATP. A certain type of bacteria generates about 70% of ATP for the colon with a substance called butyrate as the fuel.

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This image shows the interaction between the gut and the immune system. The immune system targets bacteria, but somehow not our gut bacteria. 

Another large role of the gut microbiome is its interactions with out immune system and nervous system. The bacteria in our gut suppress the inflammatory response in order to not be targeted by the immune system. This allows for a symbiotic relationship between us and the bacteria inside of us. This allows the gut bacteria to help regulate the inflammatory response without being stopped by the very thing it’s regulating. Without these bacteria our inflammatory responses would be completely out of the ordinary.

These findings with gut bacteria are fairly new and there is much more to come regarding their use in the field of medicine. Something to think about that I found fun was how little of us is really human. Ninety nine percent of you is bacteria, which essentially means that we are pretty much just giant colonies of bacteria. Kind of gross/amazing when you think about it.

Cracking the Code one Gene at a Time

Cells are one of the most important objects in the human body, yet scientists still have yet to truly understand the underlying mechanics. Recently researchers have observed how RNA transcription occurs in real, live cells. For the longest time scientists have observed RNA transcription extracellularly. Until now they have only been able to observe how RNA polymerase 2, a DNA copying enzyme, and other enzymes “by breaking cells apart and measuring the activity… outside the cellular environment.”


The molecules involved in RNA transcription have been studied profusely, but only frozen in time. Now we can use “a highly specialized optical microscope” to watch how RNA polymerase copies DNA into mRNA. Researchers then labeled certain molecules with a tag so that they glowed when looked at. An issue with this method, though, is that there are so many of these molecules in the nucleus that if we were just to examine the reactions after adding the fluorescent tag, we would just have a glowing nucleus. The scientists have combated this by suppressing the signals from other reactions. This, along with the ultra-sensitive microscope allows us to focus on one gene and transcription occurs for it.

Through this new technique, we now have a much more detailed and intricate picture of how DNA, RNA, and enzymes function in transcription. This process can be replicated for many more reactions and will help us understand bounds more about ourselves and how we truly work.

I am personally very excited to see what new concepts and techniques will be discovered from this breakthrough. Genetics is the future of biology and using this to crack the code is one step closer to curing many genetic diseases. Combining this with other genetic breakthroughs like CRISPR is a cause for excitement in the future of biology. If you have any other ideas about why this could be useful please comment below.


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