AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: rubinka

Junk DNA Shaping Your Face?


So called “junk DNA” found in mice have been identified as major factors in the shaping of their faces. These findings are important because the same sequences are found in humans, and might be shaping ours. Junk DNA is named as such because it doesn’t code proteins, so it was originally thought to be “junk”. Scientists believe that these findings can help with research for congenital conditions such as cleft palates.

Geneticists have only, as of yet, been able to define a small number of the genes that influence human face shape, however there is a large variety of human faces. Axel Visel of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory believes that this variation is caused by “distant acting enhancers“: non coding regions of DNA that can influence facial shape.

Visel discovered these findings by using a technique called optical projection tomography where he developed three dimensional models of mouse embryos and saw how gene expression varied the faces.

Discovering enhancers that affect face shape could be an important step in preventing or fixing conditions such as cleft palate syndrome. What do you think about this research or its implications?

Cuts, Scrapes, and Hair Loss a Thing of the Past!


Can adults repair their tissues as easily as children can? A study currently conducted at Boston Children’s hospital is attempting to find the answer to this question. Researchers have found that by activating a gene called Lin28a, they were able to “regrow hair and repair cartilage, bone, skin and other soft tissues in a mouse model.”  The scientists found that Lin28a works by enhancing metabolism in mitochondria—which, as we learned in class, are the “powerhouses” of the cells. This in turn helps generate the energy needed to stimulate and grow new tissues.
This discovery is a very exciting one for the field of medicine. The study’s senior investigator George Daley said, “[Previous] efforts to improve wound healing and tissue repair have mostly failed, but altering metabolism provides a new strategy which we hope will prove successful.” Scientists were even able to bypass Lin28a and directly activate the mitochondrial metabolism with a small compound and still enhance healing. Researcher Shyh-Chang says of this, “Since Lin28 itself is difficult to introduce into cells, the fact that we were able to activate mitochondrial metabolism pharmacologically gives us hope.” Since it is difficult for scientist to actually introduce Lin28a into a cell, it might be easier to simply synthetically create a substitute and introduce that. Either way, I think this is a very promising discovery! What other uses can you think of for this discovery?



Bioprinting the Body


This image depicts a collection of pharmaceutical drugs, such as those that might be tested on the “bodies on a chip”. Source: 


Tiny 3-D-Printed Organs Aim for “Body on a Chip”

By Jeremy Hsu and LiveScience

Source: Scientific American (

Scientists have recently begun developing a series of 3-D printed “bodies on a chip” that could replace animal and cell testing in the future. These “bodies” consist of a series of mini-organs- chunks of tissue from various organs that have been 3-D printed out of layers of individual cells and connected with artificial scaffolding and blood/fluid channels to a electronic chip.  Tony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine explained the process as, “We’re printing miniature solid organs: miniature livers, hearts, lungs, and vascular structures. (. . .) The question is whether you can have a better system to test these drugs (.  .  .) [we] can bypass cell testing and animal testing by going straight to miniature organs.”   The chip inside the “body” measures its temperature, oxygen, pH, and other factors, enabling scientists to use these mini-organs to test drugs or see how the body might react to a disease.

The possibilities are endless! Bioprinting, and especially this type of bioprinting, is such an exciting concept because there are so many ways in which it can be utilized. First, this new use of bioprinting might enable scientists to better test the drugs we put into our bodies, skipping the steps of animal and cell testing all together and going right to an actual “body” without harming animals or people in the process.  Second, drug testing on “bodies on a chip” could help rapidly improve scientist’s ability to respond quickly to pandemics or bioterrorism attacks. Testing drugs in this manner not only allows scientists to see how a drug might affect one organ, but a whole system of organs, thereby making the whole process safer and more effective.

Questions For Further Discussion: What do you think?

In what ways is this development exciting? In what ways is it frightening? What do you think the future of modern medicine looks like? Does it include bioprinting in this way, or in any way?


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar