AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: karlylinnaeus

CRISPR/Cas9: Controlling Genetic Inheritance in Mammals

Often the subject of debate, CRISPR/Cas 9 has come to the forefront of the scientific community as its development bridges the worlds of Sci-Fi and reality. Yet while CRISPR/Cas9 has been successfully used in altering the genetic inheritance of insects, applying the same technology to mammals has proven to be significantly more complex. With the recent development of active genetics technology in mice by UC San Diego researchers, a huge stride has been made for the much contested future of gene technology.

Releasing their findings in January, the team led by Assistant Professor Kimberly Cooper engineered a copycat DNA element into the Tyrosinase gene controlling fur color. The copycat DNA results in mice that would have been black appearing white. Over two years they determined the copycat element could be copied from one chromosome to another, repairing breaks targeted by CRISPR.  Ultimately, the genotype was converted from heterozygous to homozygous.

Following the success of her lab’s single gene experiment, Cooper hopes to use the technology to control the inheritance of multiple genes and traits in mice. Her experiment, the first active genetic success in mammals, has biologists hopeful for  future development of gene drive technologies to balance biodiversity and mitigate the adverse effect of invasive species.

Is Photosynthesis the Key to World Hunger?

With a global human population growth of about 83 million annually, one of the most pressing questions of the 21st century is how we will support our ever expanding population. A central study apart of the RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) International project may have found a key contributor to the solution.

Photosynthesis functions using an enzyme Rubisco and sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen. Overtime, Rubisco has created our oxygen rich environment, and now is unable to discern accurately between molecules of oxygen and molecules of carbon dioxide. 20% of the time Rubisco will grab oxygen instead of carbon dioxide, creating a toxic substance which must be recycled through a process known as photorespiration. Scientists from the University of Illinois and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service reported that plants engineered with photorespiratory shortcuts are 40% more productive in real life situations.

Currently being tested with genetically modifying tobacco plants, experts hope to apply this technology to food related crops within the next ten years. This represents a massive feat for addressing world hunger, as 200 million people could be fed with the calories lost to photorespiration in the midwest United States alone. RIPE and sponsors such a the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged to allow small farmers (especially in sub-saharan Africa and Southeast Asia) free access to any project discoveries.

Kombucha: More Than Just a Trend

With its bitter flavor, supposed health benefits, vague origin, and aesthetic presentation, Kombucha has become the nation’s latest trend. In Williamsburg on a sunny day, you are bound to see someone sipping on this beloved probiotic tea. While hipsters, health nuts, and myself have all jumped on the Kombucha bandwagon, it seems that science is not too far behind. Researchers at McGill University have found that a combination of probiotics and an herbal supplement called Triphala led to 60% prolonged life expectancy in fruit flies.

This study suggests evidence that the gut microbiome and health may be intertwined, a notion widely believed in the practice of holistic health. Senior author of the study, Satya Prakash, stated “Probiotics dramatically change the architecture of the gut microbiota, not only in its composition but also in respect to how the foods that we eat are metabolized”.

Fruit flies have 70% similarity to humans in regard to their biochemical pathways, making the study promising for fellow Kombucha drinkers! The authors of the study cite the “gut-brain axis” , a communication system between the brain and microorganisms of the gut, as an explanation for their findings.

While Triphala may be hard to come by, some foods with a high probiotic content include sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, and of course, my personal favorite– Kombucha. So while it seems science may catch up, you and I can be well ahead!

An Apple a Day Keeps The Wrinkles Away!

“Does she eat her fruits and vegetables?” the doctor asked in a monotone. My mom and my seven year old self shared a knowing glance, giggles filling the room. “You know what they say!” the doctor said sternly, a slight smile in the corners of his eyes. Yet, the old adage seems to ring true “An apple a day” may stave off more than just mid day munchies. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that the natural product Fisetin, found in fruits in vegetables, may have positive effects on health and lifespan.

As organisms age, they begin to accumulate damaged cells. Eventually as damaged cells add up, the cells will go through an aging process known as cellular senescence. This accumulation of damaged cells results in the release of tissue degrading enzymes and inflammation.

When treating elderly mice with Fisetin, researcher’s discovered an increase in the heath and lifespan of the mice. While researcher Paul. D. Robbins found the findings to suggest extended health span, questions regarding potential dosage of the new drug still remain.

While dosage of this new and potentially revolutionary drug remain unclear, the fruits and veggies that contain it are no further than a walk to your fridge!

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