AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: roycellulose

Harnessing the Power of Photosynthesis for Sustainable Energy

Researchers at the University of Rochester have started on a project aimed at creating clean hydrogen fuel by mimicking the processes of photosynthesis.  Their project, as detailed in a publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), delves into the realm of artificial photosynthesis, aiming to harness the power of nature to produce hydrogen fuel in an eco-friendly way. The project revolves around the use of Shewanella oneidensis, a bacteria, along with nanocrystal semiconductors. The bacteria serve as an efficient and cost free electron donor to the photocatalyst, a critical component in the artificial photosynthesis system. By using the unique processes of the microorganisms alongside nanomaterials, the team aims to pave the way for a clean energy solution to this ever so polluted world. The head researchers at Rochester aim to highlight hydrogen as an ideal fuel due to its environmental friendliness as well as a high energy per molecule source. However, it is extremely hard to extract in its pure form.

Leaf 1 web

Artificial photosynthesis represents a promising way for achieving this, witht he process of three key components: a light absorber, a catalyst for fuel production, and a source of electrons. The team’s system uses semiconductor nanocrystals for light absorption and catalysis, while utilizing Shewanella oneidensis as an electron donor. This remarkable bacteria possess the ability to transfer electrons generated from its metabolism to an external catalyst, facilitating the production of hydrogen gas from water when exposed to light. The project at the University of Rochester seeks to mimic the natural process of photosynthesis, a fundamental concept in AP BIO. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. The most important process in photosynthesis that the researchers are trying to mimic is the process to break down H2O into H+ ions. By understanding the fundamentals of AP BIO and its study of Photosynthesis we can learn to appreciate nature and its amazing processes such as the one that the researchers are attempting to mimic. This study, if succeeded, would be revolutionary as it is a sustainable practice and would significantly help reduce the use of fossil fuels which would greatly help with global warming. I hope that this project succeeds and am extremely grateful for learning the fundamentals of Biology in AP Bio for me to be able to understand how photosynthesis works and how the researchers will attempt to mimic this process in order to better the world.

How COVID-19 Robs Us of Our Sense of Smell

Led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Columbia University, the study with the pandemic virus, SARS-CoV-2, found that the infection caused by SARS indirectly dials down the action of olfactory receptors (OR), proteins on the surfaces of nerve cells in the nose that detect the molecules associated with odors. This new study not only sheds light on the reason for loss of smell, but also sheds light on the effects of Covid-19 on other types of brain cells, and on other lingering neurological effects of COVID-19 like “brain fog”, headaches, and depression.SARS-CoV-2 without background

The study involved analysis of olfactory tissue from human autopsies and experiments on golden hamsters, a species highly reliant on their sense of smell. The researchers observed that the virus triggers an increase of immune cells, which release cytokines altering the genetic activity of olfactory nerve cells. They suggest that that if olfactory gene expression ceases every time the immune system responds in certain ways that disrupts interchromosomal contacts, then the lost of sense of smell may act as an early signal that the COVID-19 virus is damaging brain tissue before other symptoms presents, and suggest new ways to treat it. However, these cells are not infected by the virus directly. These findings could have broader implications than it first seems. The persistence of immune reactions in the nasal cavity may influence cognitive functions and emotions because these olfactory neurons are connected to sensitive brain regions. The team’s next steps include creating treatments to protect the “nuclear architecture” of these cells and prevent long-lasting implications. This study aligns with many core topics in AP Biology, such as proteins, the immune system’s role in disease response, and the immune system’s interaction with neurons. It offers insight into the understanding of how cells communicate and respond to pathogens. It also delves into gene expression which illustrates how factors like viral infections can lead to changes in a cell’s genetic activity. This study represented a significant step in understanding the broader effects of COVID-19 and opens options for new treatment strategies. The Study also provides valuable insights into the functions of the immune system and neurons during a COVID-19 infection. The increase of immune cells and the release of cytokines in response to SARS-CoV-2 can alter the activity of olfactory nerve cells. This not only affects our sense of smell but also has more affects on brain function. The immune reaction in the nasal cavity could impact cognitive functions and emotional states because of the connection of olfactory neurons to sensitive brain regions. This understanding of how COVID-19 effects immune responses and neuronal changes is crucial as it helps scientists find new ways for treating the long term effects of COVID-19. Now this brings the question of if this study gives insight into how to treat patients with long term issues from Covid and how they will be treated.


Unlocking Nature’s Secret: Crafting Cellulose Gels by Mimicking Avian Saliva

Researchers at North Carolina State University have harnessed inspiration from the ingenious tactics of small birds’ nest-building processes to develop an eco-friendly and cost-effective method for developing cellulose gels. This freeze-thaw technique is not only straightforward but also holds promise for creating cellulose gels that find application in diverse fields, including the development of timed drug delivery systems. What’s more, this process is suitable to bamboo and other plant fibers containing lignin. Cellulose stands out as a versatile material in the production of hydrogels, indispensable in various applications, from contact lenses to wound care and drug delivery. However, the usual methods for creating hydrogels from cellulose often involve the use of toxic processes. Usually, making cellulose-based hydrogels requires dissolving cellulose and then forming the desired structure. This often involves using difficult, unstable, or unsafe chemicals. As Lucian Lucia, a professor at NC State, points out, “Normally, you have to first dissolve the cellulose and then induce it to crosslink or form the structure of interest, which often requires the use of difficult to handle, unstable, or toxic solvents.”

Little swift, Apus affinis, at Kruger National Park, South Africa, crop

In a stroke of biomimicry, the researchers drew inspiration from the Swift family of birds, known for employing their saliva as a natural adhesive to bind twigs together during nest construction. The saliva encourages the fibers in the nest to interconnect, a phenomenon they sought to replicate with dissolved cellulose for crafting hydrogels. The process involved using water-soluble cellulose, specifically carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), into an acid solution, which was then dissolved. Powdered cellulose fiber was introduced to the solution, which was then subjected to four rounds of freezing and thawing, resulting in the creation of a cellulose gel. Lucia likened this process to adding a thickening agent to water, akin to thickening a pie filling. By adjusting the CMC’s pH, the water becomes thicker, making it act like glue. The successive freezing and thawing cycles cause the cellulose to compact and interweave, similar to the natural nest-building process of Swifts, but without the need for beaks and saliva. Freeze-drying the gels further led to the production of cellulose foam. The researchers successfully replicated this process using bamboo fibers, suggesting its potential applicability to a wide range of lignin and cellulose-containing fibers. These cellulose gels exhibit resilience and stability at room temperature and can be altered to degrade as needed, making them well-suited for a range of applications, including drug delivery. This approach offers an environmentally friendly means of processing otherwise insoluble cellulosic materials, harnessing the principles of biomimicry. This research has been documented in the journal Advanced Composites and Hybrid Materials, with Noureddine Abidi from Texas Tech University serving as a co-corresponding author. This article on developing eco-friendly cellulose gels using biomimicry in the nest-building process of Swift birds connects to the topics learned in AP Biology. In AP Biology, macromolecules are an essential topic that is studied, and cellulose, the substance examined in the article, is a complex carbohydrate (polysaccharide) that is one of the primary structural components of plant cell walls. It is composed of long chains of glucose molecules that link together to create a tough and rigid structure. This rigid structural integrity of plant cell walls or cellulose is what scientists sought to use to create an adaptable and compatible gel for scientific/medicinal use. After discovering the intriguing properties of cellulose based gels and there potential variety of uses in the medical field, Im left wondering about the potential evolution of cellulose utilization. Did you learn anything new about cellulose and its amazing properties?


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