BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: mydroxyl

Protecting Ourselves Against COVID-19

How does COVID-19 spread?

According to this article by the CDC, there are two main ways the coronavirus spreads:

  • The inhalation/exchange of respiratory emissions from:
    • Coughing/Sneezing
    • Talking/Singing
    • Breathing
  • Touching a surface with the virus on it and (without washing hands) touching:
    • Eyes
    • Nose
    • Mouth

 

Preventing the spread of COVID-19

An article (source article) from Harvard Medical School explains everything you need to know about preventing the spread of the virus. Below is a summary of how to contribute to the prevention of the spread of the virus.

 

Protecting yourself and others:

In order to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus, you should avoid those who are infected and others if you are infected, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and disinfect objects that are frequently touched daily. You should also minimize travel and time spent in crowds/close quarters.

 

Washing your hands:

Whenever your hands are dirty (ex: after using the bathroom) or are going to be near your face (ex: before eating a meal), wash them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you are unable to wash your hands during these times, sanitize with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. A guide for washing hands, created by the CDC, explains how to properly wash your hands in five simple steps:

  1. Run your hands under clean water until sufficiently wet, then acquire soap
  2. Rub the soap around the whole surface of your hand, between every finger, underneath every nail, etc.
  3. Keep doing this for at least 20 seconds
  4. Rinse off all the soap under clean water
  5. Dry your hands on a clean drying surface or let them air dry

 

Social Distancing:

Social distancing is when in social settings, people maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between each person. This is crucial for at least slowing down the rate of infected people, providing hospitals more time and resources to take care of infected people without being overwhelmed by a large number of patients. It’s important to note that just social distancing is not enough to prevent the spread of the virus, as respiratory emissions may linger and travel more than 6 feet when airborne. Make sure to also wear a mask and avoid the indoors and areas without air circulation while with other people.

 

Essential resources:

When grocery shopping, make sure to buy a lot of nonperishable goods to keep in case of an emergency. Make sure to wear a mask when going out, as masks prevent the spread of respiratory emissions and help prevent hands from touching faces. Wipe down surfaces such as carts and baskets before using and make sure to wash your hands after using. If you’re part of an increased risk group, try to avoid going out as much as possible.

 

Minimally useful measures:

Some individuals decide to take extra precautionary measures, but they are unnecessary for the most part. Some of these include wearing gloves and quarantining mail. In situations like these, just make sure to wash your hands after handling potentially infected objects, other measures do not help significantly.

 

Masks:

Wear a mask! The most common way the virus spreads is, as stated before, through respiratory emissions. Wearing a mask prevents these emissions from traveling throughout the environment. Even asymptomatic people may carry/spread the virus, so it is important to wear a mask no matter what. Masks should fit tightly and be worn properly, completely covering the mouth and nose. Masks are not supposed to be an alternative to the other methods of prevention but should be used in addition to the other methods.

 

Infants/Toddlers:

There is an alarming amount of young children put at risk from improper/a lack of safety measures. This article from kidshealth.org explains how to properly protect children under the age of 2 from COVID-19. First of all, babies should not wear masks. This is because since their airways are extremely small, they will have a hard time breathing and may suffocate in a mask. They may also touch their face more frequently in attempts to remove the mask, increasing their risk of infection. Since they can’t wear masks, it is important to avoid going out in public with them if possible. If unavoidable, make sure to wash or sanitize your hands before handling them and put them in a stroller with a covering.

 

An analogy based on cells and membranes:

A simple way to think about it is as if the human body were a cell. The skin is like a cell membrane and the eyes, nose, and mouth are like channels in the membrane. Wearing a mask is like closing the channels in order to keep substances out. Being in a large group of people is similar to a cell in a hypotonic solution, making it more likely for the virus to “diffuse” into your body. Socially distancing is slightly similar to a cell in a hypertonic solution, for this makes it less likely for the virus to flow into the body. To sum up, just make sure to make smart decisions, wash your hands, maintain social distancing, and wear a mask. Following these guidelines will help us protect each other until the virus is no more.

The Impact of Newfound Generalized Taste Buds in Mice

Background Information on Taste buds

According to this article about how taste buds work, taste buds are composed of cells that are structural, and cells that are chemical receptors. The surfaces of the receptor cells have proteins that bind with the chemicals that cause our perception of taste. As you all (should) know, the tongue does not actually have different sections for each flavor but instead, it has many different types of receptors that are stimulated by certain chemicals in food. The different reactions of receptors, which recognize bitter, sweet, sour, and umami flavors, are determined by specific genes in the DNA (It’s important to take note that the production of certain proteins and certain sequences of the DNA will even affect something as “simple” as taste). The receptor for salt, aka the epithelial sodium channel, functions differently from these receptors. It is basically a membrane that allows ions of sodium to permeate into specific cells.

 

The Mouse Research

An article (source article) from sciencenews.org reveals the findings of a research project that resulted in the discovery of generalized taste buds in mice that have the ability to taste four of the five flavors that these cells can recognize. These flavors include bitter, sweet, sour, and umami. The traditional belief in taste bud functionality is that taste buds only sense one or two specific flavors. Although mice possess both types of taste buds, the new research shows that clearly, the process is not as simple as just sensing specific tastes. Another article from sciencenews.org explains an experiment that demonstrates how taste is not just dependent on the taste buds themselves, but the brain plays a significant role in taste reception. In this experiment, certain receptors in the brains of mice were stimulated while the mice were drinking normal water. This caused the mice to react as if they were tasting sweet or bitter substances. The results of this experiment show that taste buds work with the brain to stimulate the perception of flavor.

Going back to the first article, mice need a specific protein that allows the generalized taste bud to send signals to the brain. Through research, it was discovered that the taste buds with broader ranges did not function in the absence of this specific protein. This goes to show the many functions and the vast significance of proteins in organisms. Additionally, some of the taste buds that only sense specific flavors were not functioning as well. Due to this, researchers believe that these two different types of taste buds depend upon each other to send signals to the brain.

 

So What?

At this point, you may be wondering why certain functions of the taste buds of mice matter. In case you didn’t know, the taste buds of mice function similarly to those of humans. This means that further research on the taste buds of mice may contribute to human interests as well. For example, one’s sense of taste can be lost through certain treatments (ex: chemotherapy) and aging. This may potentially lead to loss of appetite, causing malnourishment and other issues. With more research, these conditions could be treated through artificial taste bud receptors and even more by understanding the relationship between taste buds and the brain. Personally, I believe that this research is good support for those who are struggling with the loss of appetite, as well as a gateway to even more possibilities. I’d like to know more about your thoughts on this research. Is it worth the time and effort to learn more about this topic? Do you think that there are more possibilities than just treating loss of appetite? What else could this research be useful for?

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