AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: jillectrophoresis

CRISPR in the Modern World

Shawna William’s article “Crispr Babies Trial May Have Been Government Funded” on The Scientist speaks about how the most recent update on the Chinese experiment with Crispr. Scientist He Jiankui and his team came out with the new information that his experiment, which used CRISPR on the embryos of two twin girls, was funded by the government of Guangdong Province. CRISPR uses enzymes from bacteria to “edit” (aka alter) genomes of organisms to correct mutations. This technology is groundbreaking as it can be used to control the DNA of future generations. This article, in particular, focuses on the crucial point that this new information contradicts the findings of the government’s own investigation along Jiankui’s previous claims and then proceeds to evaluate all parts of this experiment.

        MIT Technology Review and the Associated Press reported in November that He modified the CCR5 gene in embryos in order to ensure that the children will be immune to HIV. One neurobiologist, Alcino Silva believes that this altering this gene has impacted the CRISPR babies and their ability to recover from strokes and better cognition, while others like geneticist Gaetan Burgio of the Australian National University believe that this study is completely wrong. Considering Burgio disputed this study over twitter instead of using a more valid outlet through publications like The Scientist, I personally do not believe that his dispute of Silva’s claim is valid. Moreover, I believe that it is extremely important that further investigation of whether the Chinese government was involved must continue. If it can be proven that the government funded this research, I truly believe that worldwide bureaucratic branches must become involved in order to reinforce that the Chinese government must uphold science ethics. Although this new tool will definitely be used to benefit the  Experiments like He’s can be detrimental to everyone involved.  

Warming Up This World

      The article,Oceans Are Warming Even Faster Than Previously Thought” by the University of Berkley adds to the ongoing conversation about global warming and our world’s future. This research expands on the idea that scientists must look at ocean temperatures in order to fully understand this phenomenon instead of using data that is susceptible to yearly changes like El Nino. Evidently, it was estimated that ninety-three percent of excess solar energy is in the world’s oceans, thanks to greenhouse gases.

     Models like the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 state that the temperature of the top two thousand meters of the ocean will rise .78 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Thermal expansion, because of this rise in temperature, will cause sea levels to rise 12 inches without the addition of melting glaciers and ice sheets. In addition, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report accumulated that research models have shown that there has been a faster increase in the excess heat from the oceans. Moreover, around four thousand “diving robots” called Argo have been monitoring many of the oceans conditions like the temperature, pH, salinity as well as other data. Before this exciting new technology, most of the data was collected using a technology called expendable bathythermographs. However, this only collected data on water temperature only once. The updated research techniques use the atmosphere’s oxygen content to determine the speed of global warming while taking into consideration burning fossil fuels, of course. This is because warming oceans release oxygen.

     Overall, I believe the path that global warming scientists are beginning to explore is crucial to understand the necessary changes we must take to take care of planet earth. From this research, it is obvious that actions even as simple as recycling initiatives are crucial to reduce greenhouse gasses and hopefully prove the CMIP5 model and other models wrong by slowing down or even preventing global warming and climate change.

Rotavirus Vaccine Leads to Important Human Microbiome Experiment

     The journal Cell Host & Microbe recently published Vanessa Harris’s and her team’s (scientists from the Netherlands) research regarding a rotavirus vaccine. Over 200,000 children each year die from rotavirus. It is the prominent cause of diarrheal death in children. Therefore, this line of research is essential to help ensure the global health of all people, especially children.

      Harris’s study consisted of sixty-three, healthy male adults. They were randomly assigned one of three possible arms (branches of types of antibiotics): a broad spectrum (with vancomycin/ciprofloxacin/metronidazole treatments), a narrow-spectrum (with a vancomycin treatment) or the control with no vaccine. After this treatment, the results of the antibodies were tested by the subjects’ viral shedding. The three treatment arms led to similar antibody levels although there was a small increase in viral shedding with the narrow-spectrum antibiotic. Most importantly there was an overall difference in between the antibiotic-treated groups compared to the control arm, with the antibiotic treatments resulting in higher viral shedding. Their results showed an impact of antibiotics on microbiomes reaction to the vaccine.

      The research team also worked with children in Ghana and Pakistan which found a correlation between immunity to the rotavirus vaccine and the presence of a specific, intestinal bacteria. A vancomycin arm was added to attempt to recreate similar results to the earlier study with the adult men. Because rotavirus is a childhood disease, the main outcome of this second half of the study was that further, more detailed and specific research is necessary.

        I believe that the scientists are correct in saying that more research is necessary in order to support any large conclusion, yet it seems to me that bacteria can clearly alter microbiomes reaction to rotavirus vaccine. In my opinion, whether that is a mostly positive or negative effect must be the next step in the research in order to use this information to help children in developing countries like Ghana. Most important, the fact that “…[Harris’s] team believes that understanding that triangulation between bacteria, virus, and the human immune system has the potential for vaccinology and can lead to important uses of the microbiome”, should be the driving factor behind research into human microbiomes.

Pesticides Possibly Killing Farmers

Men farming dry, lowlands throughout Central America, Sri Lanka, India, and Egypt are suffering from the epidemic of the disease CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease, a.k.a. CKD).  CKD is usually experienced by those who suffer from diabetes and hypertension, yet these farmers have neither. Researchers are at a loss for what could be the specific common denominator causing this widespread effect. The world is just starting to understand the extent of people affected by this disease. For example, in Sir Lanka, around 2.9 million people are expected to be at high risk of developing deadly CDK. As CNN reports,  “the Sri Lankan government has had enough of the mystery, convening experts from around the world…to find answers, in collaboration with the World Health Organization”. Stanford nephrologist Shuchi Anand, MD, is one scientist who is trying to do something about it. She has founded a working group through the university in order to further research on CDK as a disease, its definition, and the exact cause. Research has determined that it could be possibly an environmental factor that is causing this particular group of men to develop this deadly disease. However, agrochemicals, vegetation, infectious agents and heat stress are all possibilities. While there is no real answer to this mystery yet, the Sri Lanka government has taken matters into their own hands by banning one pesticide and adding labor laws to limit heat exposure. Anand urges governments and the general population to consider that immediate action might not be the best course until there is more research. I believe that Anand is wrong in this account. All possible action must be taken immediately as this is an issue that is affecting many of the working class in these developing countries, and because of disputes between labor and management, it is an issue that has long been ignored. These responses must also be balanced with continuous in-depth research which continues to elaborate on all possible causes.

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