AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: kangyotype

A NEWclear Life

In a recent study at the University of Georgia, images of many different species of animals have been taken in Fukushima, Japan, where there was a nuclear disaster nine years ago. The people in the area had been evacuated to a safer place so that they wouldn’t suffer from the toxic radiation that causes cancer. However, animals like the wild boar, black bear, macaque, and raccoon dog (my pick for March Mammal Madness 2017) have been photographed in the area. Intrigued by how this could be possible, a team went to take data by taking tens of thousands of images of the different species.

Cameras were set in three different zones: high radiation, intermediate radiation, and low radiation. Humans are still inhabiting the low radiation area because it is safe enough where there is minimal contamination. Despite the nuclear contamination, most of the species inhabited the high radiation zone and the least inhabited the low radiation zone. 26,000 images of wild boars were taken in the uninhabited zone, 13,000 images in the restricted zone, and 7,000 in the inhabited zone. This was due to the fact that the animals were trying to stay away from human interaction and development. The team also evaluated the time of day when the animals were active, the elevation, and the type of terrain. Animals like the raccoon continued to be nocturnal in the uninhabited zone, while the wild boar was even more active during the day than before since it did not have to worry about being hunted. The Japanese serow differed from the rest of the animals as it actually spent more time in the human-inhabited zone because of the higher boar population in the uninhabited zone.

Although many would assume that animals would stray away from areas of high radiation like humans, the contrary occurred in Fukushima. The results showed that factors like human interaction, elevation, and habitat type played a larger role than the radiation levels for population size. How do you think these animals are able to survive in these conditions?

How can we survive on raw foods out in the wild? Microbes may help.

In a recent study, Vayu Maini Rekdal was ordered to create a menu with foods that could be eaten either cooked or raw. He made chia seed breakfast puddings for volunteers who would eat the food cooked or eat the food raw. Their stool samples would then be taken so that Professor Rachel Carmody could analyze the microbes that had a role in the digestion in the different styles of food. She had previously found out that the microbiomes within mice quickly changed when they went from raw sweet potatoes to cooked sweet potatoes and she wanted to see if that rang true in humans as well.

The results of her human experiment showed that the microbiomes within the human gut changed rapidly like that of the mice once the diet was changed. However, she found that the microbiomes didn’t change drastically between raw and cooked meat, unlike the sweet potatoes. Dr. Carmody explained that it is necessary for the microbiomes to shift when eating raw sweet potatoes because it is harder for humans to digest them when they are raw and cooking them changes the types of molecules that need to be digested.

Dr. Carmody believes that the microbiomes are able to change so quickly because our ancestors might have needed to change diets quickly when they didn’t have access to a certain type of food. Even though we could be eating food that is uncooked, less tasty, and harder to eat, our gut microbes allow us to adapt to those types of food in order to stay alive. Therefore, it could be thought that our microbiomes have evolved alongside humans. However, she also found that mice are able to survive on the microbes that are found within humans, which leads some to believe that humans haven’t totally co-evolved with our microbiomes.

More research must be conducted in order to get a better understanding on the interactions between humans and their microbiomes since it is a very complex relationship. Why do you think it is important to learn more about our microbiomes? Maybe one day we can start eating foods that were previously unable to be eaten.



Boogers: The Real MVP

You know that yellow gooey stuff that you blow out of your nose during allergy season? That’s mucus and although it may look and feel disgusting, it is actually a vital part of our body. Recent studies have looked into the the variety of roles that mucus plays in protecting the body and introduced new focuses. Mucus is composed of water, lipids, and glycoproteins called mucins. There are many different types of mucins that give mucus its different properties. For example, the mucus in our eyes that keeps them from drying out is composed of different mucins than the mucus in our intestine. The gel-like mucus contains mucins called MUC5BC and MUC5A, which help to clear out our airways by lining our cells so that bacteria cannot penetrate them. However, infections can also cause a buildup of mucus, since the mucins are produced at a faster rate in order to fight the bacteria. We sneeze out all of that mucus when we are sick in order to clear out all of that excess mucus.

Remember those kids in the back of your kindergarten class who used to eat their own boogers? There are actually bacteria in our intestines that feed on the glycans on mucins as an energy source. Even this may seem detrimental to the mucus in our intestines, the bacteria actually secrete butyrate, which the gut cells in our intestines use to manufacture more mucins.

Mucins risk their lives in order to insure that our cells are protected from harmful viruses and bacteria. Recent research has shown that the glycans that are attached to mucins have the ability to stop the spread of pathogens within the body. Mucins often act as decoys when bacteria try to bind to cells. The bacteria bind to certain molecules on the surface of the cell, which includes glycans. Instead of binding to the cell, the bacteria bind to the glycans from the mucins and the mucin takes the bacteria into a pool of gastric acid along with itself. A true hero!

Since mucins are so essential to the fight against the harmful pathogens invading our body, scientists are researching the molecular make-up of mucins in order to one day create a synthetic mucin. These could be used to repair mucus linings that are ineffective in protecting our cells.

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