AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: lobiotic

CRISPR Tool PASTEs in New Genes

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a revolutionary new gene editing tool. The tool is called PASTE, and it is a new CRISPR-Cas9 based genome editing tool. It combines traditional CRISPR and integrases, enzymes that can insert or remove DNA sequences, to cut out certain DNA segments and “paste” in other DNA segments. This new method removes the necessity for double-stranded DNA breaks, which can lead to mutations in the DNA sequence. CRISPR logo

PASTE combines CRISPR-Cas9 nickase, which cuts out a singular DNA strand, with serine integrase, an enzyme that can insert a lot of DNA, and reverse transcriptase, an enzyme that allows PASTE to add a single strand of DNA each time while preventing double-stranded DNA breaks. PASTE produces less indels than CRISPR-Cas9 alone. Indels(insertions or deletions are genetic mutations that often occur when a gene is edited. They can alter the function of genes, thus affecting the organism’s overall health or specific traits (New Atlas).

Additionally, PASTE researchers believe that PASTE could possibly treat genetic diseases by replacing “bad” genes with “good” genes. This is because PASTE is great at “pasting” genes into various parts of an organism’s genome. PASTE researchers tested PASTE against homology-independent targeted insertion and homology-directed repair, discovering that paste had higher insertion effectiveness than homology-independent target insertion, but lower insertion effectiveness than homology-directed repair. PASTE, however, produced less “inaccuracies” than homology-directed repair. These inaccuracies occur when the tool inserts DNA into the wrong part of an organism’s genome, effectively risking unwanted effects (Genome Web).

While PASTE is still in its infancy, it is already revolutionizing the gene editing industry. It not only reduces the risk of undesired mutations, but also increases the efficiency of gene insertion. It is pioneering treatment of genetic diseases. 

AP Bio Side Note 🙂

This technology relates to AP Bio because of its use of introns and exons. PASTE can remove or replace introns and exons, depending on what causes the genetic mutation. This is interesting because although introns are noncoding sequences of DNA, mutations in them can still cause negative effects in people. Additionally, while more intuitive, it is also revolutionary that technology is able to replace exons. I am excited to see what the future for Crispr tools holds. Please leave a comment if you found this post interesting!

New Male Birth Control Drug Works on Mice

Researchers have been attempting to create male birth control for many decades; however, much of the progress made in this research has been on long-term, hormonal methods. Examples include injections and implants. According to a study published in Nature, a new form of birth control has shown results in mice. The study says that one injectable dose of a new drug (TDI – 11861) may be able to temporarily pause fertility in male mice. The drug works within 30 to 60 minutes of injection. According to Forbes,”it is also temporary, with efficacy dropping to 91% at three hours and fertility returning to normal by the next day.” Although researchers attempted to use a pill form to administer the drug, they found that they would need an extremely large pill because the stomach breaks down some of the compound.

File:Workers' Birth Control Group.jpgThe injection inhibits soluble adenylyl cyclase. This enzyme is necessary for sperm’s ability to move efficiently and to mature properly. Researchers also tested the drug on human sperm in a lab dish. They showed similarly low levels of efficient movement and maturation. Additionally, the male mice in the study showed normal mating behavior patterns. The only abnormality was that they did not impregnate the female mice.

Unlike many current male contraceptives, this new injectable birth control does not impact sperm development; however, it does decrease sperm motility which essentially makes the sperm producer temporarily infertile. The birth control options on the market for men are pretty limited. Male condoms are only 98% effective, and many may not want to undergo a surgical procedure such as a vasectomy. Additionally, while vasectomies may be reversed, they often have permanent negative effects on fertility. Hormone-based contraceptives for men already exist, but side effects like mood disorders deter many from using them. This new drug is not hormone based, and therefore does not have these side effects.Injection closeup view.jpg


AP Bio Side Note 🙂 

With the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, I think the development of a male birth control method is even more critical. I believe that male birth control is one step forward in an equal society, especially considering the fact that women need to deal with unwanted side effects from hormonal birth control. Soluble Adenylyl cyclase plays a role in the cAMP-dependent pathway. During this pathway, a signaling molecule binds to a receptor on the cell surface, leading to the activation of a G protein, thus activating adenylyl cyclase. Adenylyl cyclase produces cAMP from ATP which then serves as another messenger to activate signaling events. Please comment down below if you found this article interesting!

COVID-19 Puts the AGE in TeenAGEr

A new study from Stanford UnBrain 090407iversity suggests that stress from the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the brains of teenagers, resulting in their brains appearing years older than the brains of pre-pandemic teenagers. The pandemic resulted in increased anxiety and depression among teenagers, but this new research indicates that the effects may not just stop there.

Scientists know that traumatic childhood experiences can accelerate changes in brain structure. Research conducted by Katie McLaughlin, associate professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and her team led to the conclusion that adversity was connected with reduced cortical thickness. This is a sign of brain aging because as people age, their cortices naturally thin. 

Marjorie Mhoon Fair Professor of Psychology Ian Gotlib originally designed a long-term study to research the effects of depression during puberty. He had been conducting brain scans on 220 children, ages 9-13, but he was not able to continue due to COVID-19. After the pandemic, Gotlib resumed his study, and the results were shocking. Researchers discovered that the deveDiversity of youth in Oslo Norwaylopmental process of cortical thinning had been accelerated for the teenagers compared to normal brain development. According to Gotlib, “Compared to adolescents assessed before the pandemic, adolescents assessed after the pandemic shutdowns not only had more severe internalizing mental health problems, but also had reduced cortical thickness, larger hippocampal and amygdala volume, and more advanced brain age.” It remains unclear to scientists whether or not the teenager’s brain age will eventually catch up to its chronological age.

Scientists speculate that the increased anxiety, depression, and overall mental health issues teenagers are experiencing following the pandemic may be linked to cortical thinning. Researchers speculate that cortical thinning may be linked to the expression of certain patterns of genes associated with different psychiatric disorders. Additionally, from studying children who suffered childhood trauma prior to the pandemic, researchers already know that negative childhood experiences can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental illnesses. The risk of physical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, increases as well. 

Jason Chein, professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Temple University Brain Research & Imaging Center, found the research intriguing, but he cautioned against accepting the conclusion that children’s brains definitely aged faster. “It’s pretty interesting that they observed this change,” he said. “But I’m reluctant to then jump to the conclusion that what it signals to us is that somehow we’ve advanced the maturation of the brains of kids.”


AP Bio Connection 🙂

I chose this topic because I was interested in the effects of the pandemic on people in my age group. This topic connects to AP Bio because brain aging has been linked to increase stress hormones. The stress hormone corticosteroid activates an intracellular receptor which results in the changed gene expression. Due to the fact that corticosteroids activate intracellular receptors, they must be nonpolar molecules in order to enter the cell membrane. Feel free to comment down below if you enjoyed the article!!

Clearing Up COVID-19 Brain Fog

Many people who have recovered from COVID-19 still suffer long-term effects from the terrible virus. From fatigue to loss of smell, to depression and anxiety, there are a wide variety of long-term conditions caused by COVID-19. One condition especially frustrating for patients is known as “COVID-19 brain fog.

Noun confusion 2900892.svgAccording to Harvard Health, COVID-19 Brain Fog is the term used by patients to describe their feeling that their thinking is “sluggish, fuzzy, and not sharp.” Doctors can run tests on patients who feel like they are suffering from this condition; however, oftentimes the tests come back normal. Scientists have several theories regarding the cause of brain fog. For one, COVID-19 can have lingering effects not related to the brain. As I mentioned earlier, patients can suffer from various conditions, which can distract them, impairing their ability to think clearly.

Health Matters interviewed neurologists Dr. Mitchel Elkind and Dr. Alexander Merkler to learn more about COVID-19 Brain Fog. The doctors noted that patients can sustain brain damage from a stroke during their  COBrain Exercising.pngVID-19 infection, and this would be an obvious cause for cognitive differences; however, Dr. Elkind mentioned that “some people seem to have this brain fog out of proportion to their illness.” In theory, patients who had mild coronavirus symptoms should not have long-lasting cognitive effects, but the medical community is finding that they do. One possible explanation is immune system activation.

Like any virus, when the immune system releases molecules to help itself fight off SARS-CoV-2 without background.pngSARS-CoV-2, some of the molecules can affect the nervous system. Sometimes the body can overreact and start attacking normal cells, which is when we start seeing effects such as COVID-19 Brain Fog. The immune system recognizes the viral proteins, but sometimes it mistakes similar-looking proteins in the brain and ends up attacking those. Fortunately, scientists are researching possible treatments for this devastating condition. 

At Augusta University, researchers are developing a drug to treat COVID-19 Brain Fog. It has not been tested yet, but the drug is a polyphenol molecule. One polyphenol molecule, EGCG, inhibits SARS-CoV-2 from binding to host-cell receptor ACE2, thus preventing the virus from entering the host cell. Dr. Stephen Hsu, Professor of Oral Biology and Oral Health and Diagnostic Sciences at Augusta believes that in combination with EGCG technology, EC16, will “yield benefits for Long-COVID relief and protection.”

AP Bio Sidenote 🙂

This connects to AP Bio through the possible treatment of brain fog. EGCG acting as an inhibitor connects to receptor-mediated endocytosis because it blocks the ligand, in this case SARS-CoV-2, from binding to ACE2 and so the cell does not accept the SARS-CoV-2.

I chose this topic because I am interested in the long-term effects COVID-19 has on individuals as well as society.

Should EVERYONE Get Boosted? Young Men & COVID Vaccines

COVID-19 is perhaps the most politicized issue in medicine, yet the scientific community is generally in agreement that most, if not all, people should get vaccinated; however, recent studies have shown that for young people (specifically young men) the booster has some cardiac risks. These men are at risk for myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.

Scientists are concerned with the longHeart rotating.gif-term effects this has on young men, and they must weigh the risks of protecting people from COVID, and eliminating harmful long-term effects of the vaccine. Jane Newburger, a pediatric cardiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital has studied patients suffering from post-vaccine myocarditis. She says, “I am a vaccine advocate, I would still vaccinate the children.”

Conversely, Michael Portman, another doctor studying patients with myocarditis, is more skeptical. He said: “I don’t want to cause panic, but I crave more clarity on the risk-benefit ratio.” Although the rates of post-vaccine myocarditis are minimal, they are still concerning. The rate was 1 in 6700 for 12-15-year-old boys and 1 in 8000 for 16 and 17-year-old boys. For the vast majority of patients, short-term myocarditis resulting from the COVID vaccine was treatable. Scientists still don’t know why some people experience myocarditis after taking the vaccine, but they have some theories.

Jeremy Asnes, chief of pediatric cardiology at Yale Medicine and co-director of the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital Heart Center gives insight on the topic: “Though rare, myocarditis can be caused by an immune response to a vaccine such as smallpox vaccine, which was the most successful vaccine in history.” The general consensus among scientists is that they don’t know the reason it’s happening, but the inflammatory reaction is concerning none the less.

Young boy receiving a vaccine (48545943301).jpgOverall, the medical community continues to recommend the coronavirus vaccine to people of all ages. A new study published in the American Heart Association journal indicates that the risk of myocarditis from COVID-19 is higher than the risk of myocarditis from the vaccine for the vast majority of people. Specifically, the risk from COVID is 11x higher than the risk from the vaccine.The exception in question is young men, but for now, scientists still believe that the safest choice for everyone is to take the vaccine; however, you should be aware of the rare side effects that can result from taking the vaccine so that you can stay vigilant after you take yours!! I encourage you to leave a comment on this post. I would love to read your feedback!

AP Bio side note 🙂

Myocarditis is related to AP Biology. Since Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle, to determine the connection between AP Bio and this article, we can examine how myocarditis is resolved in patients. In order to fix inflammation, dying cells are engulfed in the coated by phagocytosis and later transOxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.jpgported by the vesicle to lysosomes that can digest them. This process is controlled by phagocytic receptors which signal to the cell that the particles can and should be engulfed.

I chose this topic to write about because I was interested in learning about the COVID vaccine. Coronavirus was such an integral part of my life experience, and the vaccine allowed my life to get closer to normal. I feel as if I owe the vaccine that changed my life and kept me safe the courtesy of learning about it.

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