AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: slayerson

A “CRISPR” Way to Test for Melioidosis

Melioidosis is a deadly tropical disease that flies under the radar. Around 150-200 thousand people get it every year, and more than half of people diagnosed die. One of the largest problems of this disease is that it takes several days to diagnose, meaning it takes several days for patients to receive the correct treatments. However, a new test, using CRISPR, could change that.

A new test has been invented that uses CRISPR to detect a genetic target that is specific to Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is the bacteria that causes meliondosis. The new test can detect the gene with almost a 94% sensitivity. It was developed by researchers at the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, Chiang Mai University, Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology in Thailand, and the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK. The results of this new CRISPR test mean that thousands of people could be saved annually from meliondosis, with an easy to use rapid test.

The disease is caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is found in water and soil of sub tropical and tropical regions. It enters the body through cuts on the skin, ingestion, or inhalation. One of the reasons it’s difficult to diagnose is that the symptoms range from pneumonia to those of a chronic infection. This, paired with the fact its more common in rural areas, causes this disease to be under reported.

Currently, melioidosis is diagnosed in patients after bacterial samples are cultured, which takes three to four days. But, in Thailand, 40% of patients die after just a couple days while waiting for the tests to come back. Currently, there is no vaccine for this disease, but it can be treated with an antibiotic such as carbapenem. However, due to the range of the symptoms, many other and or wrong antibiotics are prescribed, which wastes time and money.

To develop a new test, researchers identified a genetic target specific to B. pseudomallei by analyzing over 3,000 B. pseudomalleigenomes. Their new test called CRISPR-BP34, ruptures bacterial cells and using a recombinase polymerase amplification reaction to amplify the bacterial target DNA for increased sensitivity. In addition to this, a CRISPR reaction is used to provide specifics. The researchers collected samples from about 100 people with the disease and 200 without, in order to test the legitimacy of the test. The new test got results in just four hours and enhanced the sensitivity from about 66% to almost 94%.

This relates to our study of the immune system in AP Biology. As we’ve learned in Biology, first macrophages and neutrophils are the first responders, and they attempt to engulf and destroy the disease. The helper T-cells try and coordinate the response while killer T-cells are attempting to destroy the disease. And cytokines signal molecules to come help defeat the disease. While these attempts by our body is unsuccessful more often than not, it still displays the immune system response learned in AP Biology.

This new test will help save thousands of lives by making diagnoses faster, which will allow the correct treatment to be given in hours, instead of days. This is truly a groundbreaking invention.

Where else do you think CRISPR can be used?

Had you ever heard of Melioidosis before?

Why do you think there is such a large range of symptoms for Melioidosis?Melioidosis world map distribution

Uncovering One Mystery of Tardigrades

Tardigrades, are one of the more well known creatures of the microscopic world. Something that keeps them in the spotlight is their extreme survivability. However, when active tardigrades don’t have their toughness. They only have that survivability when they are dormant, or are in a state called suspended animation, read this blog to find out how they enter this state.

Tardigrades can be called water bears or moss piglets in addition to their official name. This is due to the fact that the location they are found in is typically in water in mossy or muddy areas. They are microscopic eight legged animals that when dormant are close to invincible. When needed, tardigrades can curl into a ball called a tun. One of the reasons they are able to do this is that water bears are invertebrates. When they are in a tun, tardigrades pull in their legs, release water, turn their insides to glass, and nearly stop their metabolism. Once in this state tardigrades can withstand radiation from x-rays and even trips into space.

Derrick Kolling, a chemist at Marshall University found that chemical changes called oxidation to the amino acid cysteine trigger the tun state, and they even found that when this process is reversed, it brings tardigrades out of their dormant state.


SEM image of Milnesium tardigradum in active state - journal.pone.0045682.g001-2

Scientists have wondered for a long time what causes tardigrades to go into the tun state, and this finding is an exciting discovery for the biology world. This discovery helps explain some unknown pieces of the biology of water bears as a tun, and there is even hope that this discovery can explain some biological aspects of other creatures in their respective tun state’s.

Kolling started this project almost out ofnowhere. After seeing tardigrades in the news frequently, he decided to find some and test them with an EPR Spectrometer, a device that studies atoms and molecules with unpaired electrons. This relates to our AP Biology class as we also found tardigrades for a lab, and we learned about their toughness, origins, and survivability.

After using the EPR Spectrometer to test a few different things, the researchers found that blocking cysteine oxidation prevented tardigrades from forming tuns triggered by exposure to high levels of salt or sugar. They found that blocking this oxidation also prevented water bears from surviving freezing. This suggests that cysteine oxidation is what triggers the tun state.

Prior to reading this, what did you think caused tardigrades to enter the tun state?

Do you think tardigrades really came from space?

Have you ever tried to find a tardigrade?

Post Includes edits and suggestions made by ChatGPT.


Fighting the Flu: Why Kids Need More Influenza Antivirals

Influenza Virus

Influenza, otherwise known as the flu, is a very well known disease, that is unfortunately still very common. Given its commonality, there are many different ways to try and treat or mitigate the virus. Despite this fact, we can see discrepancies between guidelines and actual prescription practices for flu treatment among children, thanks to the study “Trends in Outpatient Influenza Antiviral Use Among Children and Adolescents in the United States.” 

The lead author, James Antoon, a professor and doctor at Vanderbilt, emphasizes that antiviral treatment, especially when administered early, significantly improves health outcomes in influenza cases among children. However, the study reveals that a significant proportion of children, particularly those under the age of 5 and especially those under 2, are not receiving the recommended antiviral treatments. In fact, only about 40% of children studied were treated with antivirals, despite guidelines suggesting that all of them should receive this treatment.

Interestingly, the study reveals a notable disparity in the geographic use of influenza antivirals, showing a significant difference in prescription rates across different regions, independent of flu cases.

The reasons behind the under prescription of antivirals in children is likely due to various factors, including differing perceptions about effectiveness, variations in the interpretation of diagnostic testing, misunderstanding of national guidelines, and concerns about potential adverse drug events associated with certain antivirals, such as oseltamivir.

Additionally, the study mentions a previous investigation led by Antoon that explored neuropsychiatric side effects in children diagnosed with influenza. While these events are relatively infrequent, the study observed that they occurred in both treated and untreated children.

The research emphasizes the importance of improving flu management among vulnerable children in the United States, highlighting the need for better following of guidelines regarding antiviral use in pediatric flu cases.

This study connects to a few things we’ve learned this year in our AP Biology class. The way oseltamivir works, is that once inside, your body metabolizes it, which activates the oseltamivir. Once activated, it binds to and inhibits the active sites of the enzymes responsible for spreading the flu throughout a host’s body. As we learned in AP Biology, it doesn’t completely stop the spread of the virus, but it definitely slows it down, allowing your white blood cells to eradicate the virus.

Do you think the underuse of antiviral medications in children with influenza is a widespread issue? How might this research impact pediatric healthcare practices in managing flu cases more effectively?

(Post Includes suggestions made by ChatGPT)

The Other Mental Side of Covid-19

When thinking of Covid-19 most people think of a fever, cough, or lack of taste and smell. However, there is another symptom found in a recent study, a psychiatric symptom, that remains unknown to most people, yet is still quite dangerous. These aforementioned symptoms are paranoia, delusions, and suicidal thoughts, all of which were developed by teens in the midst of their Covid-19 infections. Luckily, scientists believe they were able to pinpoint the cause of these symptoms.

Scientists believe rogue antibodies, while trying to fight Covid, accidentally targeted their own brain. The antibodies were found in the patients’ cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is a clear liquid that flows in and around the hollow spaces of the brain and spinal cord. The rogue antibodies found do target brain tissue, however we can’t say for sure whether they are the direct cause of the newfound symptoms. This is due to the fact that the newly found antibodies target structures on the inside of cells, not the outside.

According to the study, Covid-19  may trigger the development of the brain targeting antibodies. The study also suggests that treatments that calm down the immune system could resolve the psychiatric symptoms. Both teens in the research underwent intravenous immunoglobulin treatment, which is utilized to reset the immune response in conditions related to autoimmunity and inflammation. Following this, the psychiatric symptoms of the teenagers either partially or completely disappeared. However, it remains a possibility that the patients might have shown improvement without any treatment, and due to the limited size of this study, this cannot be ruled out.

3 teens who were hospitalized due to Covid-19 at the researchers’ hospital were chosen for a new study. They tested positive with either a PCR or rapid antigen test. As taught in AP Biology, antigens are the foreign receptors on the surface of antibodies. Immune cells can transport a piece of the pathogen to T-cells for recognition once the pathogen is eliminated. T-cells play a role in triggering B-cells, which then produce antibodies targeted against that specific antigen. Of the 3 patients chosen, one had a history of unspecified anxiety and depression, and after being infected with Covid-19, they experienced delusion and paranoia. Another had pre existing anxiety and motor tics, and after getting Covid-19, they experienced mood shifts, aggression, and suicidal thoughts. The 3rd teen had no pre-existing condition, and after getting Covid-19 experienced insomnia, agitation, and disordered eating.

As part of the study, all 3 patients had a spinal tap which showed they all had higher than the normal amount of antibodies. However, only 2 of the patients carried Covid-19 antibodies, which created more uncertainty in the study. In conclusion, with this small a study, we can’t say for sure whether there is a causation between the antibodies and the psychiatric symptoms despite the evidence.

Based on the evidence presented, do you think there is a causation between the antibodies and they psychiatric symptoms of Covid-19 found in the teens?

Have you or anyone you know experienced these psychiatric symptoms or ones similar to those discussed in the study after getting Covid-19?(2020.05.08) Coleta De exames para Covi-19 (49870440091)

Birds Can Teach Us More Than Just Flying

Birds are known for their mostly beautiful, sometimes annoying songs, as well as their super flight abilities, but now, those shouldn’t be the only things they are known for. Scientists have observed the method small birds use to make their nests, as a guide to constructing cellulose gels in a nontoxic way. Scientists use a freeze-thaw process to make the cellulose. This process is modeled after how swift birds (not named after Taylor Swift) spit on the twigs in their nests to hold them together, but also to help connections form between the twigs. Cellulose gel is just a hydrated version of cellulose. Cellulose is the most abundant organic compound on earth. It is a chain of glucose that is different from starches because the glucose is in its beta form. It forms long chains that can build cell walls. It is a major constituent of paper and cotton. Most organisms can not digest cellulose, but inside of us, it acts as soluble fiber that stimulates the digestive tract to secrete mucus to help move feces along.

Cellulose is also a very useful material when it comes to making hydrogels, something that is used in a variety of things in the medical field ranging from contact lenses to wound care. Unfortunately, the process of creating hydrogels is not only difficult but can also be toxic. Normally, you would have to break down the cellulose and then get it to make the crosslink or structure of interest. This process often required the use of toxic, unstable, and/or difficult-to-handle solvents. Knowing how swift birds make their nests, The researchers added a water-soluble cellulose called carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) to an acid solution and dissolved the CMC. After that, they added powdered cellulose fiber to the solution and put it through four rounds of freezing and thawing. This process generated cellulose gel. Repeatedly freezing and thawing the solution causes the cellulose to compact and intertwine itself into the sticky network. The researchers also did those processes with bamboo fibers and it was a success. This implies that this bird-like freeze-thaw process could be useful with other lignin and cellulose-containing fibers. The cellulose gels are robust, stable at room temperature, and can be tuned to degrade on a schedule, meaning that they’d be very helpful with drug delivery.

Do you think there’s anything else in nature that might hold the key to solving human challenges?

What are some other examples of humans learning from nature?

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

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