BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: jervoussystem

Can Gene Edited Tomatoes Save Your Life?

In a new invention by Hiroshi Ezura, the chief technology officer at Sanatech and molecular biologist, Tomatoes can now lead to lower blood pressure and higher relaxation.

This invention is based off a new phenomenon that is becoming more and more popular in Japan, food that is genetically edited using CRISPR technology. This technology is used to increase the amount of GABA in foods. GAMA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter and amino acid that “blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain” (Waltz, Scientific American).

GAMA is being tested by many groups, including Ezura and his crew, for positive correlations between available GAMA, and health benefits. So far, there have not been any confirmed guaranteed health benefits, but the data from other genetically modified foods shows generally there are health benefits. People eating the food should feel more relaxed. Other tests have been done in the human, or animal bodies. GAMA is a natural substance found in humans, so the genetic mutations do not add a foreign substance to the body – it is safe to consume.

CRISPR technology is at the heart of this. This is a genetics technology in which one can add, take away, or alter sections of DNA. DNA is a double helix which consists of the nucleotide bases, Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine. When certain sections of the genetic code, represented in letters, are replaced by others, certain genes can change. Genes are certain pieces of DNA that carry genetic information which can alter how someone looks or functions. When worked on a tomato, it is able to alter a gene that gets rid of a pathway called the GABA shunt, which through a series of events limits GABA in cells.

Basepairs Graphic Public Domain

This technique has been used before, but it is so special because this is the first time it has been a commercial food product. This is exciting; genetic engineering can have negative effects in some areas, but so far the data shows that it is effective. Personally, I hope there is a rigorous series of tests that has to be conducted in the future for each CRISPR modified food to be commercially produced and sold.

Can eating less save your life????

Nutrition and calories have been a topic of much discussion over the past few years.  In a recent study by Yale University, results show that a diet with less calories than the recommended amount can increase longevity.

In this study, researchers at Yale asked participants to eat a diet with a certain amount of calories that is recommended to them based on their weight. They then asked a few people to lower their calorie intake by 14% . The results were extremely positive. The immune system is fueled by the thymus gland. In this gland  T-Cells are produced, which are an essential part of the immune system;  the body will die without them. One of the main issues that come with the human body with age is fat buildup in the thymus gland. This fat buildup happens fast, and the thymus becomes almost fully deactivated when filled up with fat. This means that less T-Cells will be produced.

T-Cells are vital to the body’s function. There are two types, Cytotoxic T-Cells and Helper T-Cells. The Cytotoxic T-Cells kill infected cells and certain types confer future immunity to antigens, and the Helper cells activate other immune system cells. When these pieces are removed, the whole system falls apart, and the body can get infected easier. This is why any change to one’s life that can increase the activity lifespan of the thymus is very important.

T-dependent B cell activation

This all is connected to the PLA2G7 protein in the body, which is created by macrophages, another important type of cell in the immune system. Inhibition of the protein targets inflammation that causes the fat buildup which stops the thymus from working. This is done through calorie restriction, which alters the gene for this protein.  Even now, inhibiting PLA2G7 is being talked about as a potential prostate cancer drug.

Overall, this study shows that there is hope. This protein’s effects may change the way people eat and live. While decreasing calories has positive effects, as long as one consumes a healthy diet, there will be plenty of health benefits. It is important to go at a dieting pace that fits every body differently.

Are Plant-Based Diets The Cure to COVID?

We all know that unhealthy diets can cause medical issues, and thus sticking to healthy foods is better, but this conversation has not been so prevalent regarding COVID. Everyone is told to “mask up,” to “get vaccinated,” and to “wash your hands, yet I cannot recall the last time someone told me to “eat healthy” to stay safe from the pandemic.

In a recent study by Massachusetts General Hospital, over half a million people in the USA and the UK participated in a smart phone symptom study that analyzed each participant’s diet and gathered data for the results. Each participant added data about their diet, which was ranked by healthiness through a “Plant-BasedDiet Score that emphasizes healthy plant foods such as fruits and vegetables.” From March to December 2020, 31,831 participants were infected by COVID, and those with better diets had a “41% lower risk of developing severe COVID-19” symptoms. They also had a 9% lower chance of getting infected.

The researchers connected these sample statistics with the socioeconomic inequality caused and reinforced by COVID. They found a relationship between “poor diet and increased socioeconomic deprivation with COVID-19 risk that was higher than the sum of the risk associated with each factor alone.” Often poorer communities have less access to healthy food, specifically plant-based ingredients that led to less severe COVID results in this study. This means that they may have a higher chance at infection, and likely will have more dangerous outcomes to COVID. This means while plant-based diets can very much help prevent the dangerous nature of COVID-19, but is not a strategy many can employ.

Why does healthy eating help fighting COVID? Well, we know that the humoral and cell mediated immune responses are crucial in building immunity and fighting against COVID. Cytotoxic T-Cells destroy infected cells, and Plasma B-Cells  create antibodies.  Macrophages also destroy antigens to help out. With all these important parts of the immune system being so important, and being attacked by COVID, the body needs food to create more.

Fcell-08-00677-g001

Vitamins and Minerals are crucial for this, and plants are the prime method of acquiring such nutrients. “Vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein” all crutial in building and strengthening the immune system, as per Harvard T.H. Chan. Proteins in particular can be used by the body to create more white blood cells, which are made much of protein. Consuming too much fat and sugars will not go into the immune systems, which depresses it.

Healthy diets, including plant-based diets, are not a cure for COVID, but the data has shown it may help people. Unfortunately, it will not help everyone due to socioeconomic inequality, and is another reason why governments should focus on getting better access to healthy food in poorer communities that don’t currently have much. For those who are able to eat healthy, please do so. Not only does it help the fight against COVID, but in any sickness. These statistics are not specific to COVID, but it is important for this conversation to be had about eating healthy because the focus is often only about vaccines, masks and politics with COVID. It is not a cure, though. Getting vaccinated and wearing a mask is the best way to stop the spread, and I highly suggest everyone get vaccinated.

This study also supports the new plant-based diet trend. Many skeptics do not want anything to do with this diet, but from athletes like Serena Williams using it, to this study supporting it, plant-based diets are getting results.

You Are What You Eat: Health Benefits of Fasting and Necessity of Proper Calorie Intake

Fasting is a key aspect of many religions and diets, yet the question of how healthy it is for one’s body remains a contested one. Intermittent fasting is a trendy new diet, and based on a new study from The University of Wisconsin-Madison, the trend has scientific validity unlike many other popular food trends in the last decade.

Scientists tested different diets on four different groups of mice. One ate a full amount but fasted, one ate as much as they wanted, and two others were underfed. The most healthy mice were the ones who fasted, as they got the right amount of calories, and saw benefits such as longer life, and better blood sugar control.

Why is this? One of the main reasons for this is autophagy, which is the process of moving cell waste. When one is fasting, there is more time in the body for cells to carry out the process. In this process, organelles which have been harmed are removed; they are often brought to the lysosomes. When there is more time to do this, the cell can focus on its normal function more efficiently, while still getting the appropriate calories for function.

The Process of Autophagy

Dudley Lamming, head researcher for this study, saw similar results for both male and female mice. He noted that medical research should look at how fasting can be imitated by drugs and treatment as a means of healing, due to its health benefits.

Personally, an aspect of this experiment that I do not love is the mistreatment of animals, being the rats in this case. While there are valid reasons for their use, such as biological similarities to humans, I dislike how some rats are underfed and are harmed. Nonetheless, this is a study that helps prove the benefits of fasting, which can lead to big medical findings in the future regarding human health.

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