AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: saadoplasm

Will Electrifying Delivery Trucks Limit the Predicted CO2 Emissions of this Decade?

The Australia Wildfires have evoked a sense of urgency concerning the climate change issue. The numbers, specifically the 500 million animals killed in the fires, are astonishing and heartbreaking. The fires have been a result of record high temperatures and low moisture in the air and earth. Climate change caused these fires, and it will continue to make them worse. Many people now are wondering what will come next? What can we do to help Australia? What will we do to prevent more events like this?

Maxine Joselow writes for the Scientific American about the impact that the commercial delivery process has on the environment. The World Economic Forum released a report in early January, 2020 on the rise of e-commerce in major cities around the world. The report showed that the number of delivery vehicles in the top 100 cities is predicted to rise 36% within the next decade, and as a result, carbon dioxide emissions will rise 32% from the delivery traffic alone; that’s 6 million tons.

My brother recently received a camera drone for Christmas, and I was immediately reminded of it while reading this article. My initial reaction was, “just replace the trucks with drones,” since I remember hearing about the new advancements in drone delivery. However, Joselow reminded me that drone technology, though very advanced, is not yet at a level in which it could be used efficiently, safely, and practically. The possibility of drone delivery in the future also depends on the area in which they would be delivering. In urban communities, there is are safety concerns surrounding air traffic and pedestrians.

The report from the World Economic Forum recommended several solutions to the carbon-emitting delivery truck problem, including replacing trucks with drones and requiring all delivery trucks to be electric. One author at the World Economic Forum Richa Sahay analyzes supply chain and transport work, and he claims that making the switch from gas to electric delivery vehicles would make the biggest dent in carbon emission levels.


NASA Conducts Twin Study As We Approach Space Travel

NASA found a pair of twins that were both astronauts and sent one into space while the other stayed home. As space travel increasingly becomes more feasible, this study examing the gut microbiome is significant.

Here’s what happened:

You probably didn’t know that in 2015, Scott Kelly was sent into space, and in 2016, became the first American astronaut to spend almost one full year in space. Scott has a twin brother Mark Kelly who is a retired astronaut (yes, two astronauts in one family); Mark remained on Earth during his brother’s trip to space to act as a control for the study.

Turek and Vitaterna, two researchers that worked on the Twin Study from NASA’s Human Research Program, examined Scott and the changes in his gut once he returned. They also collected 2 fecal samples before he left for space, 4 samples during the year, and 3 once he returned.

Turek says the comparison between Scott’s fecal samples before and after the trip is more valuable to the study than the comparison between Mark and Scott.

Researchers found that Scott’s gut bacteria shifted while in space. 90% of gut bacteria are classified as Firmicutes or Bacteroidetes; Scott’s post-space trip fecal samples found that Firmicutes increased and Bacteroidetes decreased but returned to normal when he returned to Earth. Vitaterna says this was a “shift in the remodeling of the structure of this community of microorganisms.” Researchers don’t know if this is good or bad. However, going forward, they are going to investigate microgravity as the main suspect.

Image result for scott kelly astronaut

“On Jan. 19, 2015 Expedition 45/46 Commander, Astronaut Scott Kelly along with his brother, former Astronaut Mark Kelly at the Johnson Space Center speak to news media outlets about Scott Kelly’s 1-year mission aboard the International Space Station.” 19 January 2015  Photograph by Robert Markowitz

So what is the gut and why does it matter anyway? The gut microbiome is home to a complex and diverse community of microorganisms. The microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, live in the digestive tract. Vitaterna mentions how powerful bacteria is to our body and says, “There are studies that link changes in the gut microbiome with neurological and physiological conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, and schizophrenia.” Vitaterna believes that we can protect other parts of our body by protecting the gut. The gut has a huge influence on digestion, metabolism, and immunity, especially. Researchers have only recently found that when the gut microbiome experiences changes, bones, muscles, and the brain do as well.

This research can be used to protect astronauts and “space tourists” in their travels using lithium hydride. Earth’s planetary magnetic field can no longer protect humans from radiation from solar and cosmic particles once travelers leave earth’s orbit. However, this research into the microbiome will provide more insight into what scientists can do to make space travel safe.


We Have Finally Seen Gene Transcription…LIVE

For the past fifty years, scientists and researchers have studied the RNA polymerase enzyme and gene transcription. Until only a few months ago, researchers had been deconstructing cells and then separating the different parts of cells. They examined the reaction of removing one of the individual parts of the now-separated cell, or the reaction of adding an individual part. Basically, in order to examine the functions of RNA polymerase, researchers could never really observe RNA polymerase in action and how it interacts within a live cell. However, at the Sloan Kettering Institute, researchers have finally discovered a way to observe the gene transcription process in real-time.

The role of RNA polymerase is to synthesize an mRNA template from a strand of DNA. That mRNA will go on to determine how a specific protein is made and define the characteristics of that cell. This process is called gene transcription. For example, a kidney cell will produce proteins that the kidney cell needs to function. This is thanks to gene transcription and RNA polymerase’s role in the specialization of cells.

“DNA transcription and the production of mRNA via RNA polymerase.”

Author: Dovelike

In July 2019, researchers developed a method called “single-molecule nanoscopy” in which the researchers use a “highly specialized optical microscope” to examine the relationship between RNA polymerase and synthesized mRNA and genes. This was the first time in history that scientists were able to observe RNA polymerase within the nucleus of a cell and how the enzyme functions.

While studying organic compounds and molecules in class, I frequently wondered how scientists were able to make conclusions about molecular behavior or cellular processes, assuming that they saw everything under a powerful microscope. But when I read this article’s title, “Scientists Watch Single Cell Transcription in a Living Cell,” I was curious to find out why this was “groundbreaking.” However, I realized that in class, when we use simple microscopes to observe relatively larger organisms like paramecium, we struggle to keep track when they are constantly moving. After reading this article, I learned that observing processes within the cell or an organelle is an even greater challenge due to the dynamic movements of molecules and their minuscule size. I thought that this was a very cool discovery. I also wondered about what this means for future research. How could this help people? What are the negative effects of this process? How practical is it for labs to use?

Dr. Pertsinidis, the structural biologist (a researcher that takes pictures of extremely small things) whose lab was used to found the single-molecule nanoscopy method, mentions that this new discovery in molecular observation could be used for more than just gene transcription, such as DNA repair or protein synthesis.



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