There have been some very exciting, recent biological findings involving gene editing. The CRISPR-Cas9 findings allow for the exact and purposeful changes to the genome of a cell. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, and it is used in bacteria and archaea as a way to protect the bacteria from intruding genetic material. Essentially, CRISPR is used to remove a faulty gene and put another in its place. This is exciting because in humans, this technology could be used to remove extremely harmful DNA from our bodies, only to be replaced by healthy DNA. This method could then be used to cure cancer. In fact, another genome editing technology, called TALEN, was actually used to cure an 11 month old girl named Layla who had what doctors thought was an untreatable form of leukemia. Described as “biological scissors”, doctors editing genes in cells in the immune system. The new genes then hunted down the dangerous red blood cells that were putting Layla’s life at risk. What is so exciting about CRISPR, however, is that unlike TALENS, which used proteins to edit genes in a very time consuming process, CRISPR uses nucleic acids such as RNA, which are significantly easier to use. Ultimately, these findings should bring a lot of good to the world and are a promising step towards curing cancer and other dangerous diseases.Image creator unknown. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CRISPR-Cas9_mode_of_action.png
How is it going readers? Today I will be talking about something that has been on my mind and will make you say “bioh, wow that is crazy.” Tarantulas, a type of spider feared by most people, carry a dangerous venom. However, Australian researchers recently discovered that the venom, when used correctly, can actually double as an effective but significantly less addictive painkiller. This peptide is found in the Peruvian green velvet tarantula, and has an official name of ProTx-II. It was originally identified by researchers at Yale, when after examining over 100 different samples of spider venom looking for a potential sample that could block the pain sensing neurons in the brain. To dig deeper into the science of it, researchers are looking for the exact peptide receptor that actually does the binding on the surface of cells. They are also searching for answers as to what aspects of the cell membrane allow it to do this. A very important pain receptor on the cell membrane is NaV1.7. Sonya Henriques, a researcher at the University of Queensland, described the situation by saying, “Our results show that the cell membrane plays an important role in the ability of ProTx-II to inhibit the pain receptor. In particular, the neuronal cell membranes attract the peptide to the neurons, increase its concentration close to the pain receptors, and lock the peptide in the right orientation to maximize its interaction with the target.” Although this potential discovery is in a very early stage, this could be an incredible breakthough. Only time will tell if spider venom can be used effectively and without extreme side effects to treat pain.
Bi YO! What’s going on readers? Today I will discuss the recent phenomenon of gut microbiome transplants, and more interestingly, how recent research has allowed patients to be treated through the use of human feces.
Our microbiome, a term coined by Joshua Lederberg, is a system used “to signify the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space and have been all but ignored as determinants of health and disease.” They are the bacteria insi
de of us and are vastly abundant in our body. A Clostridium Difficile infection causes diarrhea and the colon to be inflamed. However, there had not been a truly successful treatment to this issue until recently. But recently, the poop of the people has proven itself to be a powerful panacea. Ari Grinspan became performing FMT’s, fecal transplantations, in 2013, and has done so with a 92% success rate. In these procedures, feces is taking from a healthy, clean donor. It is vital that this happens. Then, they transfer the healthy sample into the colon of the unhealthy patient while the patient is undergoing a colonoscopy. Scientists are actually currently uncertain of why it works so well- one theory is that increased bacterial competition stops growth of Clostridium Difficile. Regardless, the process is groundbreaking- maybe it wasn’t waste after all.
Attention fellow biology lovers: it appears our biggest fears have been realized. In East Timor, in Southeast Asia, researchers have found fossils of rats up to ten times larger than modern rats. Fear not, however, as these rats are long gone. Researcher Dr. Julien Louys said that the rats lived tens of thousands of years ago, and that there is evidence of humans actually using them as a source of food. Many of the fossils were found with cut and burn marks. The findings came as a part of a project called From Sunda to Sahul. The purpose of the project team that found the rat fossils was to find when humans started moving through Southeast Asia.
Dr. Louys believes that the rats actually lived in Southeast Asia until about one thousand years ago. He cited their extinction as being cause by the introduction of metal tools into society in Southeast Asia, enabling the inhabitants to destroy forests faster and more completely. The team is working to find the impact of humans on the Southeast Asian Ecosystem, which is directly correlated to the rats. Once they find the exact conditions that existed in the area before the rats extinction, they will have a more exact idea of what happened that left the rats extinct.
The rats themselves are characterized as mega-fauna. Mega-fauna is a term that refers to animals that are abnormally large, and these rats fall under this category. The rats are part of a movement that has seen a mass extinction of mega-fauna animals across the globe. Although the most common explanation for this unfortunate trend is human influence- which undoubtedly played a role- the reality is that hard evidence points to climate change as having a larger impact. As more research takes place, it will become clearer as to the exact reason for extinction of these massive rats in Southeast Asia. What do you think caused the extinction? Feel free to comment!
If you’re a biology lover like myself, you probably spend a good chunk of time before you go to bed every night wondering, “When are we going to find a new species of tardigrade?” Well, you’re in luck, because recently a new species of tardigrade, the Echiniscoides wyethi, was discovered. For those of you who don’t know what tardigrades are, they are water-dwelling micro-animals with eight legs. Tardigrades are incredible creatures because they can survive in some of the most extreme environments, including temperatures ranging just above absolute zero to over 100° Celsius. These tough creatures are often called “water bears”, and many scientists will tell you they look similar to a hippopotamus- although on a much smaller scale. Tardigrades also can survive for over 10 years without food or water. When they go into these long periods of not eating or drinking, called desiccated states, their water contents can drop below 1% of normal. They are able to do this because of their high trehalose levels. Trehalose is a disaccharide sugar, which protects their cell membranes. This state is known as a cryptobiotic state. Tardigrades in this state are known as Tuns. Tuns have been sent to space; the European Space Agency once conducted an experiment in which they sent Tuns to space and exposed them to harsh solar radiation as well as the vacuum of space- two thirds of the tuns survived the conditions. The new species of tardigrade was found near Allen Island in Maine. It is named the Echiniscoides Wyethi, named after the artist Andrew Wyeth and his family, who own the island. The species measures about one-sixteenth of an inch, and has been described as looking like a “gummy bear” under a microscope. Delicious, however, due to its size, it can’t be too filling! Image from Wikipedia