AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: riwang

No need to buy fragrances, we can just create them: a new way of creating everyday items from scratch.

Gene modification.

In a rapidly developing industry, genome editing technology has been growing to a point where “food, drugs, cosmetics, and biofuels” can be synthesized by microbes. Eric Rhodes investigates this phenomenon through the use of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna’s findings reveal how scientists can target specific segments in genes and then inactivate, delete, insert, and alter to however the scientist pleases.

At a closer look at what CRISPR technology is, Rhodes, elaborates and shows that multiple genes can be edited. It can be altered to produce any of the approximately 30 biosynthetic gene clusters to produce any natural product. Some popular compounds that are produced include carotenoids, citric acid, 1,3-propanediol, phenylethanol, and squalene. This can make great strides by making common commodities more accessible to the average human. Whether it is pigments (cartenoids), flavoring agents (citric acid), cosmetics (phenylethanol), or components in vaccines (squalene), the opportunities are endless.

We had recently done a bio lab on E.coli and through independent research, we found E.coli’s importance to our digestive system. CRISPR technology too can be used in the engineering of enzymes similar which have seen massive practicality in the modern world. In biology class we learned about epigenetics and how gene expressions can be more pronounced or repressed. In the case of CRISPR technology, CRISPRa involves fusing a catalytically inactive Cas9 (dCas9) protein to a transcriptional activation domain, which can attach transcriptional things to a specific promoter and enhance gene expression.

Perhaps a more pressing matter that this CRISPR technology can target is finding greener alternatives in our world. Rhodes claims that “CRISPR can also be used to modify microbes to grow at lower temperatures” this way high demand species that are endangered will have less pressure of being threatened. This could pose a creative way of solving some endangered species problems by simply providing a cleaner alternative.

The growing potential of genome editing technology, specifically CRISPR/Cas9, to produce a range of useful products from common commodities to components in vaccines, presents endless opportunities for the future of industrial biotechnology, and may help address issues related to endangered species.

Plants are Power Lifters Too!


Biogradska suma

The sheer size of the giant sequoia trees in California has always begged to question, how do these trees provide sufficient resources for the upper branches? Sid Perkins, a freelancer science writer, decided to investigate this phenomenon. He wondered how these tall trees can consume thousands of liters and distribute them to every inch of the plant. Not only does the tree need to counteract the force of gravity but also overcome the resistance of the tissues.

Climatologist Gregory Quetin explains this mechanism plants use as an “evaporation of water from foliage” as the primary conductor for pulling sap upwards. He found that on average for all the world’s plants, .03 watts per square meter are used for sap pumping power which could double in areas like “rainforests.” To put that into context this is around “90% of the amount of hydroelectric energy produced in 2019”

In the larger picture, plants are heavily reliant on this evaporation method as a means of pumping liquid up. If they didn’t, they’d have to “expend 14% of the energy they generated via photosynthesis.” This obviously differs from each species and its climate as illustrated by Quetin who notes that more power is utilized in hotter regions. Regardless the power to pull sap or liquid up a tree like a sequoia seems impossible looking from the outside. These plants aren’t just powerlifters on the inside but also flex a range of ways to reduce global warming’s effects. Nikk Ogasa, MD for geology, elaborates on the roles of these trees as not just “carbon sponges,” but more. In an extensive research study, Ogasa concluded that scientists “should refrain from focusing on carbon emissions” as their role is much bigger than that.

In the scope of Biology, we learned as a class a technique called adhesion which is a cool property in plants that allows water to stick to tissue. Furthermore, we learned how essential water is to facilitating photosynthesis as it is a key component in the light-dependent reactions to create NADPH and ATP. This ATP and NADPH is then used in the Calvin Cycle to create glucose molecules. So if these trees need to grow even in the upper parts they need these resources key to photosynthesis provided by this pumping technique in these trees. There are two components that make the vascular system of the sequoia trees so powerful. The xylem transports water through cohesion, water molecules creating hydrogen bonds with each other, and adhesion, the property that allows the water to stick on the wall. Phloem transports the sugars made from photosynthesis up the tree to provide nutrients all across the organism.

Nikk Ogasa couldn’t have emphasized the point better. When we think of global warming we jump straight to carbon emissions and try to reduce them, but we tend to overlook how these large areas of forest are essential in maintaining soil health, promoting biodiversity, and cleaning the air. Trees are truly deeply rooted in our society and environment. 



Pink Toe? Red Toe? Purple Toe? What does COVID do that we don’t know?

COVID-19Foot Clan

Michael Nirenberg, a podiatrist at Friendly Foot Care, encountered peculiar symptoms related to COVID. Over 40 patients had “lesions that look like chilblains” typically associated with exposure to cold weather. In a recent article published by Meghan Rosen on November 21st, she revealed some of the unsuspected symptoms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Among these symptoms include “patchy tongues, puffy digits, and hair loss” associated with other rare symptoms like COVID tongue, toe, and eye.

At a closer look into the particularly unusual symptom of the COVID toe, the American Academy of Dermatology reveals insight into the symptoms underlying it. Specifically, the association stated swelling, discoloration, pus, pain, and itch. These symptoms could last up to 14 days with some abnormal cases lasting up to 670 Days! Since COVID-19 is a relatively new disease Dermatologists are still researching the underlying causes of this symptom.

Especially as we enter the Winter season and with the virus still taking a toll everywhere, we must recognize that we still haven’t seen all effects of the COVID. With many mutations, variants, and mandates being removed, the question becomes “How can it be sustainable, sensible, bearable even, to get a virus that floors you, in the same way, multiple times a year?” Aimee Cunningham, a biomedical writer, further extends this discussion to a larger context. Warning us of the problem that many unforeseen symptoms can manifest, Aimee signals that if we don’t control the spread who knows how dangerous COVID can become.

In the context of Biology, we can pinpoint solutions by understanding how COVID enters our system and why existing methods/practices like social distancing and masks work. The virus bypasses the first and second defense of our immune system by attaching to the ACE-2 receptors of our cells, hijacking and replicating its RNA code in the cell: A process known as clathrin-mediated endocytosis. We learned receptor-mediated endocytosis which is like clathrin in that COVID has to bind to a receptor before fusing with the membrane. After all, symptoms are recognized days after contracting them. Though it may seem daunting to bring back mandates, there are drawbacks if we don’t.

In more recent news, China’s zero-tolerance policy is exemplary in showing a societal perspective of regulation. Even though COVID is recognized as a legitimate dangerous virus, we also recognize that it’s hard to live in constant regulation. I believe that as of now we don’t fully recognize the effects of all existing variations and that to stop the spread it simply comes down to doing our due diligence. In our school community, students still come to school when they are sick increasing the likeliness of more spread. Simple changes like staying at home can make a major difference.

Tired of Listening to Mom? Here’s why teens grow to explore unfamiliar voices instead of the familiar

Brain-computer interface experiment

On April 28th, 2022, Lauren Sanders, a neuroscientist and senior writer, published an article regarding the internal neurological development of kids to teens. Sanders’s primary inquiry surrounded a research article about how the development of what individuals perceive benefits them influences what voices they interact with. Specifically, Sanders’s scope of inference is based on Daniel Abrams’s study where the brain activity of a group of individuals aged seven through 16 was observed to see their responses to the voices of a mother and to unfamiliar voices too.

Abrams posed the idea that the brain activity of teens is piqued by the possibility and mystery of reward when engaging with unfamiliar voices. The biologist and anthropologist Leslie Seltzer continues this conversation by juxtaposing this idea with how kids have more increased brain activity when hearing the voice of their mother. She introduces the theory that our maturity connects to how we are less dependent on a mother figure and more dependent on our peers. Moreover, she extends this research on how powerful the voices of maternal figures have in the reduction of stress hormones.

In an age where communicating messages can be sent over text, Seltzer claims that there exists a power of voice over text where emotions and neurological signals greatly increase by hearing the authentic/emotional message in person. Further research can be conducted on the difference between voice and text, which could provide even more insight into how the increase technology use in teens could influence how teens respond to voices.

These differences in brain activities reminded me of the functions of membrane proteins. One of the significant functions of membrane proteins is signal transduction, where proteins act as receptors for hormone signals and neurotransmitters. On a more micro level, this biological lens informed me of how we humans react and respond to these voices from cell to cell.

I feel that it’s quite early to make full conclusions about causation, especially since the scope of the study is small. It’s hard to draw these connections when there are confounding variables like socioeconomic status and stability in the household, especially if these factors can simply disrupt the fluidity of communication between parental figures and children.

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