AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: zaragote

Rosalind Franklin “Dark Lady of DNA”

A force to be reckoned with, Rosalind Franklin is described as brilliant and stubborn but also referred to as the “Dark Lady of DNA”. Franklin’s foundation began in Cambridge University where she studied both chemistry and physics. Following that Franklin began working at the British Coal Utilization Research Association where her work became centralized around the prosperity of coal which became her Ph.D. thesis. In 1946, Franklin was finally able to move to Paris to perfect a practice known as x-ray crystallography which later became her life’s work. Franklin started work with a man known as Maurice Wilkins on finding the structure of DNA.

Unfortunately, their clashing personalities took a toll on their professional relationship. This conflict led to the two of them working in relative isolation. While working in isolation suited Franklin, Wilkins went searching for new partners and ended up working at a laboratory in Cambridge with his friend Francis Crick who was working with James Watson on building the model of DNA. Unbeknownst to Franklin, Watson and Crick viewed her unpublished work including “photo 51” shown to Watson by Wilkins. This x-ray diffraction picture of a DNA molecule served as Watson’s inspiration.

Combining Franklin’s photograph with their own data is what allowed Watson and Crick to make their famous model of DNA. Franklin was left with no credit, and it was not until her death that Crick confessed that her work had been critical to the discovery. On a more positive note, Franklin spent her last years in her science prime. She moved to Birkbeck College where she started working on the tobacco mosaic virus. During these years she completed some of the best, most important work of her life and ended up traveling the world to discuss her work and the structure of viruses. Heartbreakingly, just as she reached the peak in her career, she died of ovarian cancer at age 37, accomplishing more in her short life than many renowned male scientists.

Franklin was left to face countless challenges and discouragements in her lifetime . When working at a lab at King’s College in London, Franklin was expected to work with antiquated equipment in the basement of the building. Being the boss she is, Franklin took charge of her lab with her customary efficiency and directed a graduate student in marked the refinements that the x-ray equipment needed. As if this was not trouble enough, Franklin was expected to stop her work every day and leave the building to get lunch. Because she was a girl, Franklin could not eat in the College cafeteria.

With all of these odds working against her, Franklin was able to make progress in studying DNA. However, her real obstacle was Maurice Wilkins. Wilkins was outraged and learned that his female “assistant” whom he expected to be working for him was actually a formidable scientist. This tension causes the two scientist to work independently. When Franklin died in 1898 of ovarian cancer, likely caused by her constant exposure to radiation, she was no longer eligible for the Nobel peace prize.

The Nobel prize can only be shared amongst three living scientists and when it was won by Watson, Crick and Wilson in 1962, Franklins work was barely mentioned. When “The Double Helix” was written in 1968, Franklin was made out to be a villain and Watson describes her as a “belligerent, emotional woman unable to interpret her own data.”

Franklin’s research and presence has only been acknowledged in the past decade. Now, there “are many new facilities, scholarships and research grants especially those for women, being named in her honor.” Franklin was a role model. Her father wanted to be a scientist but World War One cut short his education. Franklin always wanted to be a scientist. She faced it all. Her own father discouraged her because he thought it was unfit that a girl should be in such a field. 

Franklin took one of the first steps so that so many women could pursue their dreams in science. I have always wanted to be a scientist and have even faced challenges myself because I am a female. Rosalind Franklin is a role model for me and if I can turn out to be a fraction of the scientist she was, I will be happy. 


Post-Covid Culture: A Paradigm Shift

Many people are counting down the days until we are vaccinated and this whole catastrophe is “over”. However, many people do not stop to think about just how different life will be for those who have lived through the now infamous years of 2019 and 2020. Even if the entire population was vaccinated and COVID-19 could suddenly disappear, there will be drastic shifts in our way of life in categories ranging from socializing to our own government.

Before diving into the broader scheme of how COVID-19 will affect our culture, let’s focus on something that affects our daily lives: Community. The knowledge of touching things, being with other people or even breathing the same air as others is a risk will not just recede quickly in all people. Awareness “can never vanish completely for anyone who lived through this year”. It may be common for us to be hesitant to shake hands or touch our faces. People may find that they cannot stop washing their hands. Instead of finding comfort in being around others, we may find more comfort in isolation. “Instead of asking, “Is there a reason to do this online?” we’ll be asking, “Is there any good reason to do this in person?”—and might need to be reminded and convinced that there is”. COVID-19 is ironic in the sense that while it creates more distance, it is simultaneously creating more connections. As people communicate more often with people who are physically father away, we may develop ideas that these people are safer to us because of that distance. However, as COVID-19 has the advantage of potentially fostering new relationships with people potentially across the world, it puts others who do not have tech access at a major disadvantage. In a sense, a person must be online to be a part of this new found community. Moving our relationships online may further alter connections to people past the physical aspect. Small things like introducing yourself or even going on a first date can likely shift with this online format.

Now, let’s take a look at the broader picture. The first thing that we will examine is our beliefs:

American is a highly patriotic country. COVID-19 may unsuspectedly bring a new sense of Patriotism to the table. You may be wondering, how so? As a country we build statues and salute those who risk their lives for our citizens. With COVID-19, the title of hero may extend from soldiers to doctors who, without a choice, risk their lives everyday to support the ill. Saluting or saying “Thank you for your service”, as we do now with the military, does not seem so far fetched.

Another big characteristic of Americans is our individualism. While COVID-19 can be thought as creating more individualism, it is in fact doing the exact opposite. Every single person that has lived through this past year has fear of getting sick. Although this is a vice, COVID-19 has become everyone’s common enemy. While in the past people would show up to school and work with fevers and illnesses, COVID-19 has created a social responsibility. It is expected of everyone to stay home when they are sick, and to not expose themselves at the risk of exposing others.   People are now also educating themselves on how viruses work and will be more hesitant to enter the public without a mask on. As we learned in AP Biology, Viral fusion proteins bind to receptor molecules in order to enter a cell. Our greatest defense of beating a virus is if our white blood cells have memory of this virus and know how to kill it. Since most have not yet been exposed to COVID-19, getting this virus is very tough on the immune system. When COVID-19 ends, people will not easily forget how easily sickness is transmitted and will not take being sick so lightly. Things like the common cold will not be overlooked. “Millions of cases of the common cold occur in the United States each year, spreading easily from person to person” . People will be socially obligated to stay home for something as small as cold symptoms, and will easily be able to work from home due to remote work and learning. While this is a benefit because it has the ability to potentially reduce the spread during flu season , having the ability to work remotely will essentially end the divide between work and home life. There will no longer be snow days! Why lose a day of education when you can hop on zoom? Home will no longer be an escape from the sometimes overwhelming work environment.


Something that many people have overlooked is COVID-19’s impact on Religion. Corona may make Religious worship look very different. All faiths have had to deal with the challenge of keeping faith alive during adverse times, but there has never been a time where all faiths have struggles at the same time. “How do an Easter people observe their holiest day if they cannot rejoice together on Easter morning? How do Jews celebrate their deliverance from bondage when Passover Seders must take place on Zoom, with in-laws left to wonder whether Cousin Joey forgot the Four Questions or the internet connection merely froze? Can Muslim families celebrate Ramadan if they cannot visit local mosques for Tarawih prayers or gather with loved ones to break the fast?” . Quarantine will challenge connections of what it means to be a minister or a religious follower. However, religious gatherings moving to Zoom give people who have no local congregation where they live a sample of from afar. It is predicted that during these times contemplative practices will gain a lot of popularity. 


Now, let’s analyze how COVID-19 will affect something that seems to be on everyone’s minds – the government. First off, Congress can finally go virtual! Going virtual can greatly benefit the U.S Congress, as it is essential they continue to work through this crisis. As gatherings are limited to ten or few people, The House of Representatives does not seem like the best option. Congress has already had two members test positive for the virus. This is a great time for members to go virtual and return to their districts permanently. Not only is this necessary for the health of our representatives at the moment, but it also has other great benefits. Having members of the Congress work in their district keep them close and connected to the people they are representing. This can make the lawmakers more “ sensitive to local perspectives and issues” . Party conformity may also loosen when members remember local loyalty over party ties. On the other hand it will be extremely difficult to lobby congress and replicate parties and receptions across the entire country. Also, Big Government may make a comeback during this pandemic. “The battle against the coronavirus already has made the government—federal, state and local—far more visible to Americans than it normally has been”. As we listen for daily health updates, we find ourselves looking at government officials for guidance and our national leaders for hope.  According to Politico, not only will America need big government to get out of this crisis, but we will desperately need it in the aftermath of COVID-19 . But that’s not all! Let’s think about the election we just had, It is very possible that Electronic voting will go mainstream. “We have been gradually moving away from this model since 2010, when Congress passed a law requiring electronic balloting for military and overseas voters, and some states now require accessible at-home voting for blind and disabled voters”. With the old way of voting putting US citizens is a compact, dangerous situation we had to shift. Voting online will become more mainstream in the future. There is proven technology that includes voting on a mobile device that transfers the information to a paper ballot format. This system has been used in more than 1,000 elections in the past decade and will become the new normal. 


Wow, that was a lot ! How can COVID-19 effect so many diverse fields of life? Well, this is not even brushing the surface of the magnitude of change that is to come. We need to brace ourselves for a true paradigm shift, and take this opportunity to make the change a change for good. And, in the process try to stay united in a world of distance.

The Cell Superhero

Did you know that there is a cell that can help benefit patients with spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke, burns, cancer, and osteoarthritis? You must be thinking, what kind of cell can do all of this! The answer is a type of cell that has come into research relatively recently: Stem Cells.

Stem Cells are superheroes, in fact, they have a superpower – shapeshifting. Think of Stem Cells as the body’s raw materials. Under the correct conditions, Stem Cells divide to form what is commonly referred to as Daughter Cells. These Daughter Cells have the capability to become new Stem Cells or specialized cells with a more specific function. This is where shapeshifting comes in! Stem cells can morph into a variety of different specialized cells including blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells, and bone cells. The power to shapeshift is unique to Stem Cells. No other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new types of cells. 

Another important skill these microscopic organisms have is the power of replication. As most people learn, many Cells go through the process of Replication. However, this is not a skill muscle, blood, or nerve cells typically have. Stem Cells, conversely, divide all the time. How do these cells divide and replicate while conserving their differentiability? That is a question that many people are driven to answer. If we can discover how stem cells self-renew, this information can be applied to understand normal embryonic development, or misregulated as during aging, or even in the development of cancer.

Sure, Stem Cells have a superpower, but how can they use this power to help? Researchers and Doctors hope that studying stem cells can help with a wide range of things. One ability stem cells have is helping us better understand how diseases occur. Watching stem cells mature into bone, heart muscle, nerves, other organs, and tissue cells allows researchers and doctors to better understand how diseases develop in those regions. Additionally, Stem Cells serve as a good way to test new drugs for safety and effectiveness. New studies analyze how accurate drug testing is when stem cells are programmed into tissue-specific cells to test new drugs. If this form of testing proves to be effective in the future, it can prevent harm to test-subjects that would otherwise be the first guinea-pigs.  Alike most cells, stem cells have organelles. These cells have well-developed Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum, Golgi complexes, lysosomes and so much more. How stem cells have the ability to shape-shift remains a mystery, they contain similar organelles to other common cells. Studying these mysteries can uncover a variety of information helpful in the medical field and possibly allow scientists to develop their own synthetic superheroes in the future.

Stem Cells have infinite potential ways that they can be used in the medical field. The small superheroes are currently battling the issue of damaged cells and are used in something referred to as Stem Cell Therapy. Stem Cell Therapy is a type of regenerative medicine. Stem Cell Therapy allows for damaged tissue to be repaired by stem cells or their derivatives. This therapy is the next step in organ transplantation. Stem cells will be used in place of donor organs which are in limited supply. Unlike organs that come from human bodies, stem cells are grown in labs giving them the ability to be produced on a much larger scale. These stem cells are then manipulated to specialize in specific types of cells, such as heart muscle cells, blood cells, or nerve cells. These specialized cells are then implanted into a person where these healthy cells can contribute to the repairing of defective tissue. 

Stem Cells are being used right now! Bone marrow transplants are a type of stem cell transplant. These cells replace cells that might have been damaged by chemotherapy or disease. They also can serve as a way for the donor’s immune system to fight some types of cancers and blood-related diseases. The stem cells used from these treatments are adult stem cells.

How many types of these superheroes are out there? Researchers have found several sources of stem cells. These shapeshifters are compartmentalized into the following categories: Embryonic, Adult, and Perinatal stem cells. You may be wondering what is the difference between all of these stem cell types? These categories can be explained simply through two identifying factors – location and ability. Embryonic cells 3-5 day old embryos. They have the ability to divide into more cells and become any type of cell in the body. Perinatal Cells also have the ability to change into specialized cells, but they come from the amniotic fluid as well as umbilical cord blood. Finally, Adult Stem Cells are cells that are located in most adult tissues. Until recently, it was believed that Adult Stem Cells were limited to the type of cell they become. Researchers previously thought that they could only create similar types of cells. However, new evidence suggests that Adult Stem Cells can create other types of cells and this hypothesis is still being examined.

You may be wondering why these superheroes are not frequently being used if they have so much potential. The use of Stem Cells is unfortunately controversial. Embryonic Stem Cells originating from early-stage embryos raises ethical questions. Guidelines for human stem cell research in 2009. These guidelines determine how these cells are used in research and recommend how they should be obtained.

So, there you have it! There are small superheroes that have the potential to do so much. Who knows what they will begin battling next!

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