AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: photosamthesis

Neuralink: Science Fiction or Reality?

Throughout centuries of scientific discoveries, most of the human body has been discovered and fully understood. Now this would be completely true if it wasn’t for one organ in our body: the brain. The brain is a humans most complex organ, but it is something that we only understand about 10% of how it works. There is a common misconception that we only use 10% of our brain, but “it’s not that we use 10 percent of our brains, merely that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions.” This is both scary and interesting as the organ that runs our body is hardly understood. While we only understand 10% of its function, there have still been many advancements in technology: one more notable one in the future being Elon Musks’ Neura Link          

The name Neura Link might not ring a bell, and that’s okay because it is something that if fairly new and still in somewhat of a developmental stage. For those who do not know, Neura Link is a device that “place electrodes near neurons in order to detect action potentials. Recording from many neurons allows us to decode the information represented by those cells. In the movement-related areas of the brain, for example, neurons represent intended movements. There are neurons in the brain that carry information about everything we see, feel, touch, or think.” In summary, this is a device that interprets your neurons signals, records it, decodes it, and can then represent the intended message.

All this might sound like some fancy new technology with its only purpose being to interpret what the brain is saying, and that is basically what Neura Link does. However, the implications of this can be very helpful in the world of modern treatments. One thing that is very promising about Neura Link is that the procedure is preformed by robot, so the risk of human error is out of the equation, and it can be done for cheaper than it might have been if a human doctor was preforming the surgery. They are actively trying to make it affordable for the average person that needs it. It is hypothesized that Nuera Link can help bring back motor function to paralyzed people by being an intermediary between damaged neurons. In Neura Links own words, their device could “help people who are paralyzed with spinal or brain injuries, by giving them the ability to control computerized devices with their minds. This would provide paraplegics, quadriplegics and stroke victims the liberating experience of doing things by themselves again.

One thing we have learned in this bio class this year is how there are many processes for many parts of the body. These processes (such as cellular respiration) require many resources as well as a lot of moving parts, and have to be executed very well. There are processes like these for the healing process of certain parts of the body as well. One thing, however, is that neurons and certain nerves, when damaged, can not be recovered or reproduced. There is no system in the body to heal these damaged neurons or nerves. With the absence of a system in place to recovery these damaged parts of the body, they are left there damaged. One thing that is very interesting is that many scientists have tried to find ways to repair this tissue, but Neura Link, instead of trying to repair it, is almost trying to replace it.

While the idea of placing technology inside your brain may seem a little creepy, it might just be the solution to many seemingly unsolvable issues in the body. I think that if these ambitions of the Neura Link team are met with reality (through thorough rigorous testing and safety protocols) that there should be no limit to what it can help with. Since the brain plays a pivotal roll all over the body, there is no telling what Neura Link could do decades from now.

CRISPR: A Possible Solution to Genetic Diseases?

A few decades ago in science fiction, there were talks of things like genetic modification in babies. This was more along the lines of creating the ‘perfect’ human, rather than using genetic modification to stop certain genetic illnesses. An example of this is in the 1997 movie, Gattaca, where we see an unmodified (genetically) person struggle to live in a world of genetically modified people. While it is fiction, it showed how being able to alter someone’s genetic flaws can go a long way. Despite, at the time, this seeming to just be science fiction, some of these concepts of gene alteration might become reality. These concepts becoming reality would all be due  to CRISPR.


Some of you might be thinking, “what is CRISPR?,” and that’s okay because before researching it I was thinking the same thing. CRISPR is a type of genetic engineering technique in molecular biology. This technique allows for the modification of genomes in a living organism. This technique is actually based off of CRISPR-Cas9 antiviral defense system, which can cut genomes. This has inspired CRISPR to contain Cas9 nuclease complexed with gRNA. This is the sent into a cell and is able to cut a cell’s genome at a certain position. This allows for specific genomes to be removed, as well as allowing new ones to be added. So in summary, CRISPR is a method of removing certain genomes of a cell, and in some cases replacing and/or adding a genome as well.

Now that CRISPR has been explained and we know what it is as well as how it works, we are now able to look at studies involving it. While CRISPR seems great and all, Heidi Ledford posted an article about how the use of CRISPR in embryos can cause some unwanted changes to the embryo. While experimenting, researches found that the use of CRISPR on an embryo can not only cause unwanted changes at the genome target site, but it can also cause changes near the genome target site. While some of you may think that the pros out-weigh the cons in this instance, geneticist Gaétan Burgio states that, “the on-target effects are more important and would be much more difficult to eliminate.” The on-target effects (negative) are so bad that it may not be worth doing even if it is to eliminate genetic diseases.  The idea that the cons outweigh stopping a genetic disease shocked me, as in our biology class we talked about genes and genetic diseases, and how even though they can be extremely rare, they can be irreversible, life changing, and in some cases fatal. This rejects the idea that the pros could out-weigh the cons, which puts a pin in this genetic modification breakthrough.

After looking at CRISPR as well as the research shown on genetic modification of embryos, I have realized how far we still are from elimination of genetic diseases. Despite issues arising in the experiment, I hope that they can put CRISPR to good work in order to stop the seemingly impermeable genetic diseases. And who knows, if we can master genetic modification with CRISPR, the ideas presented in Gattaca could soon seem like reality.



T-Cells: A New Fighter Against Cancer?

Cancer is something that most have heard of, and worry about. There are so many different types of cancer, and they are all taken extremely seriously due to it being able to cause more harm if left unattended to. When people think of cures and treatments for cancer, the most common one that is used across many different kinds is chemotherapy. While useful, it is not always effective, and it does not work on every type of cancer. Despite chemotherapy being the leading treatment against cancer, there are talks of a new treatment that may treat all cancer.” 

BBC reported a study done that mentioned that there may be A newly-discovered part of our immune system could be harnessed to treat all cancers.” However, before we look at this new possible treatment, we should first dive into how chemotherapy works. Chemotherapy is the process in which we use drugs to destroy cancer cells. While it can not always completely destroy cancer cells, it still aims to either keep the cancer cells from growing, dividing, and/or making new cells. The drugs in chemotherapy are meant to attack rapidly dividing cells, which is usually what cancer falls under. Despite this seeming all great, there are some drawbacks. Other rapidly dividing cells in our body include the lining of our stomach and hair, which is why some people lose hair and have digestive problems when undergoing chemotherapy. With all this in mind, it is important to note that chemotherapy is not always used for the destruction of cancer, but sometimes to weaken it in order to work as an aid to other treatments. All of this goes to show chemotherapy’s versatility, accessibility, and utility.

Now that we know the traditional treatment to most cancers, chemotherapy, we can look at the potentially new treatment and how well it works and if it is the new best option.

This new study uses our immune system to help treat cancer, whereas chemotherapy uses drugs. These researchers studied how the immune system naturally responded to cancerous tumors. Normally, T-cells are used to fight all kinds of infections, but are not always effective against combating cancer. However, the T-cells that the researchers have discoveredcould attack a wide range of cancers.” They even stated that there’s a chance to treat every patient.” What made this T-cell different is that its receptors, which are what allow normal T-cells to detect certain infections, are able to detect most cancerous cells. Not only could they detect them, but they can kill lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancer cells. This particular T-cell interacts with a molecule called MR1, so they are trying to figure out how to pair these together consistently, reliably, and safely. 

This cancer treatment seems to work during all stages of the cancer cell’s life. Normally, as we learned in bio class, cancer cells are typically created from a gene mutation in either the oncogene or tumor-suppressor genes. These genes normally stop or terminate the soon to be cancer cell, but when mutated they can not do their job properly, thus leading to a cancer cell being created and duplicating unchecked. Once it is at this stage, the T-cells are able to do their work. I think that this is an interesting treatment as it can be used to help treat most stages of cancer, and could potentially be taken pro-actively in order to activate these T-cells in the body, making them always ready to fight off any cancerous cells. I believe that this could make it a safer, and more proactive version of chemotherapy. 

This new cancer treatment might seem promising, but there is no timeline on when a mass-produced reliable treatment using this method will be complete. Despite this, it is important to know that this could hopefully be an option for many in the future, and can hopefully combat and win the worldwide fight against cancer. 


Jet Injectors: Getting Your Vaccine Without Needles

Typically, when you get injections at the doctors office, whether it is a flu shot or any number of vaccines that one is advised to take, it is usually injected via syringe/needle. However, there is an alternative way to give people the medication required that doesn’t involve a needle. This is achieved by using a Jet Injector, and this may be more favorable for people who have trypanophobia.

Before understanding and diving into the Jet Injector, we should take a look at how the traditional needle injections work. These injections are doing through syringes. Syringes are “pump[s] consisting of a sliding plunger that fits tightly in a tube.” These syringes, in the medical field, are filled with some vaccine or other fluid that is meant for injection into the body. The syringe was invented in 1853, and is still the main form of medical injections today. These have been so popular and efficient that some people label syringes as the “greatest medical device of all time.”

I’m sure many are no strangers to this syringe, especially with the increased use of them due to their importance in being the delivery system for the COVID-19 vaccine. The syringe is used to get the mRNA vaccine into the blood stream. As talked about in our bio class lessons, the vaccines contents need to be able to reach cells (in this case within the arm) in order to instruct them to produce antibodies  that latch onto the spike protein of COVID-19.

Despite the syringe being widely used and very efficient, it is just not suitable for everybody. For some people they just have trypanophobia and prefer not to use it, while others are better off without it. This is where Jet Injectors come in. Jet Injectors are an alternative to a syringe that do the same job. Jet injectors use a “narrow, high-pressure stream of liquid [that] penetrates the outermost layer of the skin to deliver medication.” These Jet Injectors are either powered by springs or compressed gas (varies based on manufacturer). These found good use in the military as it required less maintenance to use than changing out the needle after each injection. Although that was a use of the Jet Injector in the past, they are currently used as an alternative to the syringe for injection Flu Vaccination.

Luckily, the side effects of the Jet Injector is similar to that of the syringe: soreness, bruising, itching, and redness. So, if you are someone who is not too fond of needles, the Jet Injector could be the solution for you if your doctor has one.

Omicron Variant: How Will it Affect the Vaccinated?

When looking back over the past 2 years, many think about the need for and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, but regardless of what many may think it has been proven that the COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the original variant of COVID-19 that was most prominent during the production of vaccines. However, what many people are wondering is if these vaccines & boosters are still effective against the Omicron variant?

Before going over the effectiveness of the current vaccines and booster shots on the Omicron variant, we first have to look at the Omicron variant itself. First off, we know that Omicron was “first identified [in] South Africa,” which is a place where full vaccination rates are at 25%: a low percent that is not high enough for herd immunity. Despite this, the Omicron is still viewed as a threat to more vaccinated communities. This is because in order for variants of COVID-19 to be labeled a variant, it needs at least one mutation to its spike protein, and Omicron has dozens of mutations to its spike protein, and the more mutations it has, the more potential it has to infect the vaccinated.

It is important to note that the COVID-19 vaccines help to produce antibodies that latch onto and render spike proteins inactive. Since this Omicron variant has dozens of mutations to its spike protein. As seen through activities and lessons learned in our Bio class, different variants of COVID-19 just have pieces of the protein structure changed, which leads to a changed shape of their spike proteins. This leads to existing vaccines being less effective as the original vaccine was meant for a specific spike protein shape, not the shapes of the new variants. The changes to the Omicron spike protein makes it very different to the original COVID-19 spike protein, so the vaccine will be less effective.

Even if a break through the vaccinations defenses doesn’t happen with the Omicron variant, “some version of this coronavirus is bound to flummox our vaccines.” Despite all of this information, we still know very little about the Omicron variant and its effects. It’s just too early to know what will happen. Because of this lack of information, it is important for people to make sure they are vaccinated and get their boosters as it does still make a difference. Overall, people, vaccinated or not, should err on the side of caution with this new potential threat of Omicron out there and should try to stay safe.



Robert Malone: The Man Behind the Ideas for the COVID Vaccine

When you think of the COVID-19 vaccine, the first things that might come to mind are the companies that facilitate it (such as Pfizer & Moderna), if it is safe or not, or even that it is a new type of mRNA vaccine that is unfamiliar to many. However, people tend to overlook and not give any thought towards who made this all possible, and that person is Robert Malone.

Robert Malone, born in 1959, started his medical career at University of California Davis, and later got his MD from Northwestern University. After Malone’s traditional education at both an undergraduate and graduate level, he conducted research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Salk Institute (19)Salk Institute for Biological Studies

During his time at the Salk Institute, Robert Malone performed a “landmark experiment.” In this experiment, Malone mixed strands of mRNA with droplets of fat (lipids). Human cells reacted with this mRNA lipid mix and began producing proteins from it. Robert Malone had some foresight and realized that this discovery has some potential in the medicinal world. He decided to jot down some notes, stating that if cells could create proteins from mRNA delivered to them that it might be possible to “treat RNA as a drug (written January 11, 1988).”

These revelations from Robert Malone had a huge contribution towards the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

COVID-19 Vaccine vial and syringe - US Census

After seeing all of this information on how Robert Malone made scientific contributions towards the COVID-19 vaccine, it is important to show how it works. Since we know (as seen in Malone’s experiments) that mRNA mixed with lipids that enter a human cell can lead to the production of proteins, scientists just had to tweak the mRNA until it could create pieces of “spike protein.” These pieces of spike proteins would have to match the shape of the spike proteins found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. This required an impressive feat of biomedical engineering, but it was done.

Robert Malone’s work did not just contribute to the first strand of COVID-19 discovered, but his work applied towards different variants as well.

Corona virus Covid-19 BW

The idea of spike proteins and how spike proteins can be counteracted through an mRNA vaccine applies to all different variants of COVID-19. As seen through activities and lessons learned in our Bio class, different variants of COVID-19 just have pieces of the protein structure changed, which leads to a changed shape of their spike proteins. This leads to existing vaccines being less effective as the original vaccine was meant for a specific spike protein shape, not the shapes of the new variants. This means that mRNA vaccines are still very much effective towards different variants of COVID-19, but they would have to be modified mRNA vaccines.

Despite all of this, Robert Malone’s research’s applications might not stop at the COVID-19 vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine was able to show us the power of mRNA vaccines, so it is not unreasonable to be expecting more mRNA vaccines in the future.

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