AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: zaygote

A New Cure: CRISPR Technology’s Role in Curing Sickle Cell Disease

Affecting more than 100,000 people in the US, SCD, or sickle cell disease, is an inherited condition that causes a person’s blood cells to block blood flow to the rest of the body. In extreme cases, this disease can cause strokes, eye problems, and many other severe adverse effects in somebody with the illness. As of now, the leading treatment is medication; however, this medication can come with side effects such as lower white blood cell levels and platelet count. Recently, though, a ScienceNews article highlighted a new cure for Sickle Cell Disease that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Sickle Cell Anemia

In the article, a CRISPR gene-editing technique is used to cure the disease. The treatment alters the gentic blueprint of the bone marrow that makes blood cells in a patients body. This process uses a patients own cells to defeat Sickle Cell disease by having edited cells make fetal hemoglobin. Fetal hemoglobin, unlike normal hemoglobin, cant be turned sickle and therfore wont clog up blood streams. In a study following people who received this treatment, 29 out of 30 didnt report any pain crises for a year. There are still side effects of this treatment such as increased exposure to cancer due to chemotherapy needed in the bone marrow altering and potentially other undiscovered sideffects. However, the treatment is still relatively new and it is yet to be seen if it can be improved on and it also still may be a better alternative than the current treatments of Sickle cell disease.

Being a carrier for the sickle cell gene myself, I find this research very interesting. Sickle Cell disease has an autosomal recessive pattern which means that the way to express Sickle Cell disease is through getting two of the recessive genes from both of your parents. Therfore somebody who is heterozygous for sickle cell has a higher chance of having a child with sickle cell disease if there partner is either a carrier or has sickle cell disease than somebody who homozygous dominant for not having sickle cell disease. With this topic being so closely related to me it is important that scientists continue to discover and improve on their ways of curing sickle cell disease in the upcoming generations. If you know any information about any other emerging cures for sickle cell disease share them in the comments below!


King of the Jungle no more? How an unlikely species have halted Lions in the wild

Everybody has known lions as the ‘Kings of the Jungles.’ For years, they’ve dominated the African Wild and easily maintained their status as most dominant in the African Wild and Jungles. However, recently, a somewhat new and indirect foe has halted the Kings of the Jungle quest. In a recent ScienceNews article, it was discovered that the invasive species Pheidole megacephala, more commonly known as big-headed ants, has indirectly made Lions switch their prey from the preferred zebras to buffalos.

Lions - Sharing a Meal

The big-headed ants, seemingly originally imported on produce, prey on the native acacia ants. Although it may seem like a slight difference in an ecosystem, it starts a big chain event. Without acacia ants, who live near whistling thorn trees, elephants can graze on the trees freely. Usually, when acacia ant populations are normal, they stop elephants from grazing on the trees and keep the grassland covered. However, without them, the lions are forced to switch from their primary prey, zebra, to buffalo. Although the lions are still able to successfully hunt, being tertiary consumers, it can potentially be detrimental to their ability to survive. Lions are tertiary consumers, meaning they are at the top of the tropic levels. This indicates that for lions, it’s super hard to get the energy necessary to survive due to the loss of power when transferring from one tropic level to another. Basically, the lions have a super-low availability of energy, and losing the ability to hunt zebras makes this even lower, putting them in even greater danger of going extinct.

Herd of Zebras in Serengeti

For Lions, whose wildlife numbers have dwindled 75% in the past 5 decades, losing a crucial prey could have immense effect. Right now, the impact the introduction of invasive ants will have on Lions is unknown, but since most invasive species come from human trading or shipping, We should feel responsible for helping lions and animals we have exposed to invasive species due to our actions. If you know any other examples of invasive species messing up an ecosystem or how humans impact the introduction of invasive species, let us know in the comments!


The Fountain of Youth for Muscles: Targeting 15-PGDH to Halt Age-Related Weakness

Eventually, everybody ages. While some good things come with age, aspects of aging, such as muscle weakness, can now potentially be stopped. For a long time, scientists have wondered why muscles start to weaken as humans age, but now, due to a recent ScienceNews article, we may be able to answer and solve muscle weakness!

Muscle Tissue: Cross Section Whole Skeletal Muscle

In the article, scientists discovered that inhibition of an an enzyme called 15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrogenase, or 15-PGDH for short, can help with strength and more muscle mass in older humans. 15-PGDH breaks down a signaling compound called prostaglandin E2, which activates the production of muscle cells that regenerate damaged muscles. Though it may seem confusing why 15-PGDH breaks down prostaglandin, the enzyme is a tumor suppressor. The enzyme inhibits proliferation so that cancer and other cells can be differentiated. In younger muscle tissue, 15-PGDH was found at reduced and relatively little abundance, but in older muscle fibers, it was found in great abundance, which caused relatively minor muscle repair. In the study, 15-PGDH was inhibited by gene knockout. However, studies show that the enzyme has potential effectors that cause an induced closure of the enzyme’s active site, which inhibits 15-PGDH. This would be an allosteric interaction in which the effector works by binding to the enzyme and changing the shape of the active site so that it can no longer work.

Silence of the Genes

Eventually, everybody ages, so this discovery is important to me. Being able to have optimal strength and energy while being old may be possible, according to the findings made by scientists. Hopefully, by the time I age, these findings can help allow older humans to continue to have peak performance. If you guys have any other studies relating to human muscle deterioration, I would love it if you shared them in the comments!


The ghost of COVID: COVID-19’s affect on people years after they contracted it

In early 2020, the entire world suddenly stopped due to COVID-19. Even as time passed and the deadly rampage of the disease slowly died down, its effects could still be felt. In 2021, Jayson Tatum, a star basketball player for the Boston Celtics, admitted that COVID caused him to use an inhaler before games so he could open up his lungs, even months after he actually had it. Being a big Jayson Tatum fan, I wondered what caused that, but there wasn’t much research on the long-term effects of COVID at the time. Now, a recent ScienceNews article shows that even 2-3 years later, COVID-19 can affect those who contracted it during the height of the pandemic. This phenomenon, called long COVID, could lead to fatigue, blood clots, and even heart disease.Jayson Tatum

The study shown in the article used the health records of 140,000 veterans who were infected with COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic and compared it to about 6 million people who were not reportedly affected by COVID-19. The researchers in the study found that people with past battles with COVID were more at risk of contracting other diseases or having health complications. Though research on why this happens isn’t conclusive yet, recent researchers have discovered that people who experience long COVID tend to have traces of the Sars-CoV-2 in their poop even months after having the virus, which suggests that some of the virus still remains in their guts. This triggers the immune system to act, specifically the innate cellular defenses, which (in this case) is unnecessarily activated due to the detection of the strains of COVID-19 in the gut. This may explain the symptoms felt due to long COVID because as the immune system works, histamine is released, which causes expansion of blood vessels and swelling of fluid/inflammation, explaining many of the symptoms of long COVID, such as trouble breathing, are related to inflammation in the body. On top of this, the strains of Sars-Cov-2 lead to long COVID because the interferons, which are another part of the innate cellular defense, reduce the absorption of an amino acid called tryptophan. Without tryptophan, the body can’t make neurotransmitters like serotonin; the lack of serotonin and other neurotransmitters is what scientists currently believe causes long COVID symptoms.

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Long COVID is a severe problem that has affected billions worldwide. As of now, there is no way to cure it, so it’s essential to try your best to avoid getting COVID-19. People who have underlying health conditions, have been seriously harmed by COVID-19, or don’t have any vaccinations against COVID-19 are the most likely to contract long-term COVID. Another way to avoid long COVID is to stay up-to-date on COVID vaccinations. Many people don’t even know what long-term COVID is. Did you know about long COVID? If not, write about what you learned in the comments.

Is the End of Penguins Near?

IfSince the early 2000s, concerns about melting sea ice in the Arctic have raised questions about how it may affect animal populations. Much research has exposed how climate change has affected animals such as Polar Bears, Snow Leopards, and other Arctic-dwelling mammals. But now, a new study published on ScienceNews shows how the rising climate change crisis may soon lead to the loss of Emperor Penguins. The Penguins’ lack of stable ice when breeding means that newly-born penguins aren’t given the proper time to fledge, and when sea ice potentially breaks, they are left behind due to their inability to swim.

Young emperor penguin (Aptenoytes forsteri) chick and adult, Snow Hill Island, Weddell Sea, Antarctica

Most Penguins can swim due to their hydrophobic wings and coating, which means their wings will not mix with water and rather stay away from it. The coating on their feathers, made of natural oils(lipids) and proteins, gives penguins wings a sense of waterproofness, meaning they don’t get wet while swimming. However, baby penguins don’t have this and instead have fluffy, hydrophilic feathers that soak up and mix with water while swimming, making it much harder for them to swim long distances. In the study, about 10,000 baby Emperor Penguins were observed, of which only about 850 survived due to melting ice forcing baby penguins to swim longer distances than possible. For now, Emperor Penguins are safe, but if these trends continue, the study shows that by 2100, the population of these Penguins can be halved.

NASA-funded study says glacier shape matters and influences vulnerability to melting

Tell us what your favorite animal is in the comments below! Penguins have been my favorite animals since I saw them in many movies and shows, such as Surfs Up!, Happy Feet, and Penguins of Madagascar. Because of this, I must share ways in which you can contribute to stopping this pressing matter. We must cut our carbon footprint by taking simple steps like driving less, using wind or solar energy instead of fossil energy, and being overall more conscious of what we do on a day-to-day basis. There is still a lot of hope for Emperor Penguins, but they may soon be gone if we do not act now. If you know any other animals that use hydrophoic principles to help them survive in the wild, let us know in the comments!

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