AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: sciencekid1

The “Sleep Switch” Has Been Discovered

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 12.07.37 AM

If you’re like me, and most of you are since you’re all human, you’ve probably had a night or two where you just couldn’t fall asleep and figured that you had too much going on in your brain.  Maybe, if you’ve taken a biology course at some point or another, you’ve thought that your brain just has too much activity going on and you wished it would all just come to a nice rest.  In reality, if you’re experiencing that little bit of restlessness, your brain isn’t doing enough!  Scientists at Oxford University’s Centre for Neural Circuits and Behavior recently carried out a study on fruit flies in which they determined the “sleep switch” is really just a regulation of certain neurons in the brain which become more active when the body needs sleep.  Although the study was done on an entirely different species, these scientists still believe that the mechanism is comparable in humans due to the presence of similar neurons in the human brain.  The study showed that when sleep is needed by the body, the “electrical excitability” of the neurons increases, leading to the conclusion that their activity is related to how sleep is triggered.

While this recent discovery has already been inspiring new ideas on how to combat sleep disorders, it is really a step towards the much more basic question, “Why do we (animals) need to sleep?”  The next step towards answering this questions, explains Dr. Diogo Pimentel of Oxford University, is to identify “what happens in the brain during waking that requires sleep to reset.”

This “sleep switch” mechanism is one of two that are theorized to be used in the process of sleep.  The other being the body’s internal clock, which adjusts an animal to certain cycles based on the 24 hour day.  At the point of sleepiness, “The body clock says it’s the right time, and the sleep switch has built up pressure during a long waking day,” explains Professor Miesenböck, in whose laboratory the study was conducted.

Original Article:

How Smart Are “Smart Drugs?”

Perhaps one of the most common social activities among people of all ages, though hopefully not in children, is the consumption or use of drugs like alcohol and cannabis.  Generally, these drugs are used for social purposes and lead simply to altered interactions with others; however, more common than one might think is the use of drugs as neuroenhancers by students.  A study published last year by researchers in the universities of Zurich and Basel aimed at discovering how common the use of drugs, prescribed or illegal, was by Swiss students with an average age of 23.  Among the 6,725 students that were surveyed, roughly 13.8% admitted to having tried alcohol, cannabis, prescribed methylphenidate like Ritalin, some amphetamines, and even cocaine in order to boost brain function during an exam preparation period.  These students had heard of the possible brain-boosting properties of the drugs and then attempted to stimulate their brains through the use of either illegal narcotics, or prescribed medicine from physicians that knew what their intended purpose was.  The researchers from the universities also conducted surveys of many physicians located in several European countries, related to similar studies that had been done in some European institutions, in order to ascertain the frequency in which the physicians received requests for neuroenhancers and what the typical response to such a situation was.  Many of the physicians stated that their acceptance or refusal of requests like these depended on the context.  As a whole, only a small minority of the students surveyed claimed to have received the desired effects of the neuroenhancers, begging the question: how effective or safe is the use of these “smart” drugs?  Possibly, as hinted by the survey results, the only real reason the students are experimenting with these drugs is due to their high stress situations (meaning that the drugs are most likely being used for stress-relief with the self-justification of brain enhancement).  Do any of you think there might be some legitimacy in the use of brain-stimulating drugs to attempt enhancement?  Or should the possible safety risks be enough to stray from the attempt?

What We Can’t See Is Just As Important As What We Can!

Taken by Ron Lute

Taken by Ron Lute

Many students of biology know that life comes in all shapes and sizes, and even though we can’t see some organisms, they are most certainly present.  If you don’t know this, and you are a biology student, you might want to go back and read the first chapter of your textbooks to learn a big chunk of information that will come around in either next week’s test or your midterm.  For now, you’ve already come this far, so you can just learn the basics later.

As it turns out, some of those little organisms, located just under the soil’s surface,  are vital to the health and safety of the the plant-life they surround.  In an effort to raise awareness of the many effects a microbiome can have on plant performance, Marnie Rout (University of North Texas Health Science Center) and Darlene Southworth (Southern Oregon University) brought together a series of works by different authors on the subject, all placed in a special section of the American Journal of Botany called “Rhizosphere Interactions: The Root Microbiome.”  As a basic understanding of the concept, the rhizosphere is the layer of soil around a plant root.  It contains microbes that affect the plant on basically every scale, from the genes to the ecosystem.  It’s important to note that the microbiome works through the rhizosphere, effectively turning this “metabolically diverse” collection of microbes into a supply source should the plant need anything.  Interestingly enough, the rhizosphere also can act as a type of self-defense grid, similar to how human microbiomes function, where in some cases plants have been known to shed their root’s outer cell layers into the rhizosphere in order to form a “layer of immunity” to the plant.

Perhaps, one day in the future, these microbiomes can offer different types of bacteria that can be used for “crop production… in areas likely to be affected by global climate changes.”  What do you think we still have to learn about microbiomes before uses like this are possible?  Do any of you know someone currently researching in this field?  Are you students who didn’t know that there were organisms that you couldn’t see ever going to look at your textbooks?



Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar