BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Category: Student Post (Page 1 of 50)

What is Polio?

Your absolute favorite AP Biology blogger, Bacterina, is releasing a 3 part Special Edition feature about the Poliovirus. Prepare to be amazed and intrigued about the deadly disease of Polio and the incredibly effective Polio vaccine. 

HISTORY/BACKGROUND – 

Both an article on the historical significance of Polio and another on the Polio vaccines allow us to see the background of Polio.Poliomyelitis or Polio as it is commonly known has existed in the world for 6000 years. Researchers know this from the discovery of Egyptian mummies with withered limbs. The disease is a life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus. More recently Polio was an epidemic in the 20th century in the US and over the world occurring mainly in the 1940s and 1950s. But in the 1950s a vaccine was created and the rates started to decrease. Since May of 1988, the World Health Assembly strives to eradicate poliomyelitis and because of this, the cases of Polio have decreased by 99%. Now the World Health Organization has declared the regions of the Americas, Western Pacific, and Europe as polio-free. On the other hand, South-East Asia is not free of polio but is working to eradicate the disease. The most well-known case of Polio was when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was paralyzed by Polio and remained in a wheelchair for most of his adult life. The President was only in his late 30s when he got polio. Most people who are paralyzed by Polio were confined to wheelchairs or iron lungs for the rest of their adult lives. 

A Child Infected with Paralytic Polio

A very informative article written by the CDC informs us of the symptoms of Polio, how it is transmitted, and how to prevent the disease. The articles share the information which is explained below. 

SYMPTOMS – 

Initially, individuals infected with Polio experience flu-like symptoms where they have a sore throat, fever, nausea, fatigue, headache. These symptoms last for 2 to 5 days and eventually go away. A smaller amount of people infected with polio will have more serious symptoms like paraesthesia, Meningitis, or Paralysis commonly in the legs, arms, or both (.5 percent of people will experience this). Of those who have paralysis, 2/100 will die from the paralysis because the virus will paralyze key muscles that allow ourselves to breathe. Only people who have paralytic disease polio are considered to have poliomyelitis. 

TRANSMISSION

Poliovirus is a very contagious disease and lives in an infected person’s throat and intestines. It is spread through person to person contact by either fecal matter or from droplets of a sneeze or cough (less common). A person can be infected with polio if they have feces on their hands or on other objects that eventually enter their mouths. After someone is infected they can spread the virus to other people from immediately to two weeks. The virus can infect others if it contaminates food and water that is later ingested. 

PREVENTION 

There are two vaccines that act as preventative measures against this disease. The inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) is given by an injection into a patient’s arm or leg depending on their age. In the United States, this vaccine has been used widely since 2000. The other type of vaccine is an Oral poliovirus vaccine which is used all over the world. Many children who get the vaccine are protected from the disease with a success rate of 99 percent. There is currently no cure for poliovirus but there are ways to speed up recoveries like bed rest, pain medications, and a ventilator.

Types of Polio Vaccines Available and How They Work

According to a very informative article by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, there are two types of Polio Vaccines. Below we look at the specifics of these two vaccines.  

What types of Polio Vaccines are available? 

There are two types of Polio Vaccines the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and the oral polio vaccine (OPV). The IPV was made first in 1955 and is administered by a shot. The OPV which was made in 1961 is more convenient and is given by liquid form. These vaccines have been incredibly effective and have eradicated Polio in the US since 1979 and the Western Hemisphere since 1991. IPV is the only polio vaccine that is used in the US. 

How Were the Vaccines Made Initially?

Oral Polio Vaccine

The OPV was created from weakening three strains of the poliovirus that caused the disease by growing these strains in monkey kidney cells. Because this was growing the kidney cells the virus was able to be weakened where if ingested it would create an immune response that didn’t cause the disease. The OPV allows the body to have a first defense against the disease because the induced antibodies are in the intestines. But OPV rarely went back to the natural form which eventually caused paralysis. 

Inactivated Polio Vaccine 

The IPV, unlike the OPV, could not reproduce by itself which means that it does not have the capability to revert back to its natural form. In order to make IPV, the poliovirus is purified and killed with formaldehyde. Also unlike the oral vaccine, the IPV does not create antibodies in the intestines but rather in the bloodstream. This prevents the virus from traveling through the blood into the brain or spinal cord which then disables paralysis. 

Why does the US use only the Inactivated Polio Vaccine?

We only use the Inactivated Polio Vaccine instead of the Oral Polio Vaccine because the IPV cannot replicate which means it will never revert back to the natural form and cause paralysis. Now every infant in the US is required to have four doses of the shot. On the other hand countries outside of the US still use the oral version because it is more affordable and easier to give which allows more people to receive the vaccine.

Polio vaccine dropped on to sugar lump for a child patient

How Poliovirus Infects Our Bodies

How polio Initially affects your body – 

According to an informative article by Khan Academy, Poliovirus typically enters the body through the nose and the mouth and will immediately start to infect the cells of the lining of the larynx. The virus will then travel to the intestines where it will begin to reproduce rapidly. After a week of being infected the virus will start to spread to your tonsils and other parts of the immune system. Gradually the poliovirus will break into the bloodstream where it then can be transported around your body. Most of the time the virus will be eradicated in the bloodstream or in the intestines but in some people, it can infect the Central Nervous System. If it reaches the CNS it will begin to replicate inside of the motor neurons and copy itself thousands of times. Then when it is ready it will kill the neurons and spread to even more uninfected cells. The disease will then fall into three classifications depending on where the neuronal damage is occurring. 

two children polio-stricken children attending physical therapy circa 1963

Three classifications of Polio

Spinal Polio 

This is the classification when the poliovirus kills the motor neurons in the gray matter of the ventral horn of the spinal column. As the cells in the region are dying off the muscles of the limbs are not able to receive signals from the CNS so they begin to atrophy and become weak. In a few days, the patient will be fully paralyzed. This is the most common form of polio. 

Bulbar polio 

This form of polio is not as common as spinal polio. It is classified by this when the poliovirus infects and kills neurons in the bulbar region of the brain stem. This affects the muscles we use to speak, swallow, and breathe. 

Bulbospinal Polio

About 20 percent of people will get bulbospinal polio where they have both bulbar and spinal infection. In this situation poliovirus infects the upper part of the cervical spinal cord making the diaphragm paralyzed.   

 

Structure of Polio –     

An article by Science Direct and the American Society for Microbiology explains the structure of Poliovirus. Poliovirus is characterized as a nonenveloped virus and is composed of an RNA genome and a protein capsid. The genome is a single-stranded RNA genome and is 7500 nucleotides long. The shape of the virus is an icosahedral capsid and it belongs to the Picornaviridae family. Because poliovirus is a nonenveloped they don’t follow the same pathways as enveloped viruses take. Usually, with an enveloped virus the virus will deliver nucleocapsids to the cytoplasm of cells and fuse with the viral membrane with the host cell membrane. Instead, nonenveloped viruses will need to travel within the organelle membranes and infect specific cellular structures that would support the arrival of a virus to the cytosol. This is made possible when the virus penetrates across the endomembrane of the host cell which allows the virus to infect the cell. 

Type 3 poliovirus capsid, colored per chains

How are animal carcasses beneficial?

Studies prove that carcasses of dead animals are important for plant growth. Researcher, Dr. Roel van Klink, conducted an experiment and concluded that carrion, the decaying flesh of dead animals, is essential for many species. Since, carrion of large animals is an extremely nutrient rich, ephemeral resource. The Oostvaardersplassen Nature Reserve found that the leaving the deceased animals on the ground has had a positive effect on biodiversity. The remains attract more insects and other arthropods and increase plant growth. After five months the plants were significantly larger than usual; the biomass was five times larger and nutritional plant quality was higher than the controlled sites.

Many debates have started from this proposition to keep dead animals in nature reserves. The European legislation requires any dead animal to be removed or destroyed, unless the aim is to provide food for endangered scavengers, like vultures. However, in places like Kenya and Tanzania, the Mara River’s ecosystem relies on rotting carcasses for sustenance. The disposal of wildebeests in the river, not only feeds scavengers, but also releases nutrients (phosphorus and carbon) into the river after their body decomposes and releases algae and bacteria, which also nourishes the fish. Although many nature reserves benefit from this concept, the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve abused their power in 2017-2018. The reserve starved 3,300 deer, horses and cattle to death. These opposing views cause controversy on whether or not decaying animals are beneficial or detrimental to the economy.

Many ecosystems rely on rotting carcasses for sustenance. In the ocean, over 60 species live off of the “whale-fall” communities. This is when a large whale dies and their body sinks to the seafloor, into a new ecosystem. Scavengers (hagfish, sleeper sharks, amphipods, etc.) in the ocean tear away large pieces of soft tissue from the whale and later, “bone-eating” worms help to digest the whale carcass. These new species, developed from the “whale-fall” communities, can last decades in the deep ocean. Unfortunately, many whales suffer from commercial whaling, which also affects the food chain for animals that eat whales. This time of mass slaughter killed off as many as ninety percent of living whales during the 18th and 19th century. Therefore, some of the first extinctions in the ocean have been from whale-fall communities.

Personally, I believe that animal carcasses are beneficial to nature and should be allowed. Though, some people abuse their power to benefit their own land, by slaughtering animals. For that reason, there should be set regulations to ensure the safety of animals so people won’t just go around killing innocent animals for their own advantage.

Drinking Tea Can Extend Your Lifetime

An article was written in the journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and refers to the recent work that some Chinese scientists have recently discovered: habitually drinking tea contributed to living a longer, healthier life. The data comes from 100,902 Chinese participants with no record of heart attack, stroke, or cancer. They were separated into two groups: those that drank tea habitually around and those that did not. The participants followed up for a median of 7.3 years per participant.

Generally, habitual tea consumption was linked to “more healthy years of life and longer life expectancy.”

The analyzed data reveals that “50-year habitual tea drinkers would develop coronary heart disease and stroke 1.41 years later and live 1.26 years longer than those who never or seldom drank tea.” And in comparison to non-habitual tea drinkers, habitual tea consumers “had a 20% lower risk of incident heart disease and stroke, 22% lower risk of fatal heart disease and stroke, and 15% decreased risk of all-cause death.” In addition, tea drinkers “had a 39% lower risk of incident heart disease and stroke, 56% lower risk of fatal heart disease and stroke, and 29% decreased risk of all-cause death compared to consistent never or non-habitual tea drinkers.”

The data points to the fact that drinking tea can certainly make one’s life healthier, decreasing the odds of potential heart issues in humans in the long run.

Dr. Dongfeng Gu, one of the main authors of the article, noted that “frequent tea intake over an extended period may be necessary for the cardioprotective effect.” The other authors found that green tea was the most beneficial, as it was linked with “approximately 25% lower risks for incident heart disease and stroke, fatal heart disease and stroke, and all-cause death.”

Green tea is a rich source of polyphenols, which “protect against cardiovascular disease and its risk factors including high blood pressure and dyslipidaemia.” High blood pressure usually exercises more strain on one’s blood vessels and heart and eliminating the risk to get high blood pressure can extend one’s life.

Drinking tea has shown to increase one’s lifespan and decrease potential heart issues. The ingredients of tea, specifically polyphenols in green tea, defend against the risk of heart diseases and problems.

Embryo Gene Editing can Ensure Offspring Do Not Inherit a Deafness Gene!

Denis Rebrikov, A scientist in Russia has done research regarding ways in which he can edit the genome sequence of an embryo in order to prevent the fetus from developing certain gene mutations, specifically in this case a hearing problem or possible complete deafness. His plans are very controversial to some, who believe the possible risks of very harmful mutations to DNA that would be passed onto direct and future offspring, outweigh the possible benefits. However, some people find this scientific possibility to be worth the risk, if it means not passing a potentially very harmful gene down to offspring. If these methods are done correctly, it should alter the genome sequence in the embryo so that future offspring off that embryo will not inherit the negative mutation.

One couple shared their story in detail, in which both parties have a hearing deficiency, the man with partial deafness, and the woman completely deaf. Their biggest hope is to have children who will not inherit hearing issues, because of the apparent challenges they have had to face themselves because of them. They would be the first couple to perform this gene editing on an IVF embryo, so they obviously have some reservations. One of those being publicity, but more importantly the potential risks of using the CRISPR genome editor. They already have a daughter with hearing loss, but they never chose to test her genes for mutations, nor did they get her a cochlear implant to aid her hearing, because of the potential risks of that. When they finally tested her genes, they learned that she had the same common hearing loss mutation called 35delG in both her copies of a gene called GJB2. The parents then tested themselves, realizing they were both 35delG homozygous, meaning their daughter’s mutations were not unique to her, they had been inherited.

If either the mother or father had a normal copy of the GJB2 gene, a fertility clinic could have more easily created embryos by IVF and tested a few cells in each one to select a heterozygote–with normal hearing–to implant. At this stage, Denis Rebrikov informed them that CRISPR genome editing would be their only option. However, the process presents possibly deal breaking risks, such as mosaicism, in which a gene edit might fail to fix the deafness mutation, which could create other possible dangerous mutations like genetic disorders or cancer. The couple has not decided to go through with the editing just yet, but it is something they are open to in the future as more possible new research or test subjects become available.

Explaining the CRISPR Method: “The CRISPR-Cas9 system works similarly in the lab. Researchers create a small piece of RNA with a short “guide” sequence that attaches (binds) to a specific target sequence of DNA in a genome. The RNA also binds to the Cas9 enzyme. The modified RNA is used to recognize the DNA sequence, and the Cas9 enzyme cuts the DNA at the targeted location… Once the DNA is cut, researchers use the cell’s own DNA repair machinery to add or delete pieces of genetic material, or to make changes to the DNA by replacing an existing segment with a customized DNA sequence.” -US National Library of Medicine Genetics Home Reference

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Woman with a hearing aid 

If you had the opportunity to alter something in the gene’s of your baby’s embryo, would you? Under what circumstances would you consider this, and what risks might stop you from deciding to do it? Comment down below.

 

 

Did ants originate from zombies? This fungus will give you the answers.

There is a certain fungus that turns ants into zombies, but afterward, they explode. When ants are just walking by minding their own business they step on fungal spores. It attaches to the ant’s body and the fungal cell goes inside of the ant. The fungus feeds from within and increasingly multiples cells and it is called, Ophiocordyceps,   mainly living in the tropics. The danger about this fungus is that the ant is unaware of this whole process, it goes about its daily life, searching for food and bringing back to its nest. However, the fungus takes up half of an ant’s body mass. It undergoes a parasitic relationship where the fungus benefits, while the ant is harmed.

Once the fungus is done feeding, the ant will feel a needle-like sensation. What is happening here is that the fungus is pushing on the ant’s muscle cells. And the cell signals also get sent to the ant’s brain, then the ant will climb upwards above its nest. Ophiocordyceps does something very weird where it allows the ants to move upwards to a leaf above ground and then the ant bites down, where it locks its jaw. Then it sends out “sticky threads that glue the corpse to the leaf.” The ant’s head then bursts open, called a “fruiting body”, where it looks like horns projecting from the ant’s heads and the horns disperse more of these fungal spores onto its nest below it leaving behind a trail of spores. 

Hornlike antlers that come out of the ant’s head

There is still so much that is unknown about Ophiocordyceps because scientists don’t even know what kind of chemical gets into the ant’s brain causing it to climb. There are ants that age back to 48 million years old gripped onto leaves.  Scientists thought there was one species that zombified ants but it turns out there are at least 28 different fungal species that attack other insects as well. Dr. Araújo drew out a family tree to see what was infected by Ophiocordyceps. It became known that all Ophiocordyceps species come from a common ancestor, first infecting beetles larvae, not hemipteran.

The beetles that are affected by the larvae live in eroding logs.

“They’re mostly solitary creatures, with a very different life history,” compared to ants, she said.

It can now be inferred that possibly millions of years ago when this was happening to beetles, ants picked up the fungus if they were living in the same logs. Thus a constant cycle and more spreading of fungal spores. Even though natural selection favored keeping the ant’s host healthy and away from parasites, Ophiocordyceps had to find a way to make the ant leave the nest, not far enough from its environment, but just in the right place to send out the spore to infect whatever other ants were living around it. 

Because this behavior is so unordinary it is not possible that only one gene is responsible for all of this. They keep finding new species. Dr. Hughes and Dr. Araújo are still researching to find that there are hundreds of other species of Ophiocordyceps that are yet to be discovered.

Robot Frogs??

Yes, you read that title right. A team at the University of Vermont has figured out how to make robot frogs. These life forms are only millimeters long and are neither a living organism or robot. Currently, they can move toward a target and heal themselves after being injured, but not much else. One of their creators, Joshua Bongard, referred to them as “Novel living machines” and also said, “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.” The new creature was designed on a supercomputer at the University of Vermont, but was actually assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University.

The creators of this new form of life see many different opportunities for it to do good, like searching out radiation, or gathering microplastics from the oceans, or even clearing plaque from arteries. Genetically engineering organisms has always been a widespread thing, but this is the first ever time that something was genetically modified from the ground up. The supercomputer at the University of Vermont ran hundreds of algorithms to test the optimal design for the organism, it would take many types of cells and put them into a bunch of forms and body shapes. Until they were finally able to decide on the optimal body type, thanks to the help of this computer. After the shape was decided the scientists at Tufts then incubated each cell on its own then used tiny forceps and an electrode in order to merge the cells together. They were then assembled into a form never seen before in nature, they were able to move in coherent fashion, but struggled from getting up from their backs like a beetle or a newborn baby.

Personally, I think the biggest use for this technology is drug delivery throughout the body. Certain medicines for certain diseases that only affect a certain region of the body need to be delivered directly to the source, and taking it orally, or even through injection cannot get it there with the effectiveness that something like a frog carrying a certain treatment like a mailman could, which could mean a lot for medicine. These robots would also be the perfect messengers because they can rapidly heal themselves, since they are comprised of stem cells, if they were to be attacked by the immune system, and because after 7 days they can be programmed to stop working and become regular dead skin cells. So, in turn, they are both biodegradable and effective. Robot frogs are cool, but there is also a lot of uses for them, and a lot of ways this silly invention can help the world.

 

The Network to Longer Life

 

A recent collaborative study between scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, the MDI Biological Laboratory, and the Nanjing University in China found an interesting synergetic pathway between the IIS (insulin signaling pathway) and TOR pathway by studying C.elegans: nematodes that share many genes with human beings.

The short lifespan of C.elegans (three to four weeks) allowed the scientists to identify the cellular pathways that regulated aging. The scientists were able to genetically change the IIS and TOR pathways by using a double mutant on the C.elegans. The alterations were expected to yield a 130% increase in the lifespan of the C.elegans, since altering the IIS pathway yields a 100% increase and altering the TOR pathway yields a 30% increase. However, the math didn’t work out, and that’s a good thing! Surprisingly, the lifespan of the C.elegans increased by 500%.

So, even though the scientists discovered the pathways that regulated aging in C.elegans, the nuances of these interactions are still unclear. A paper discussing this topic relates longevity to the mitochondria’s role in maintaining homeostasis.  Jarod A. Rollins, one of the authors of the paper, hopes to further clarify and investigate the role of mitochondria on aging in his future research.

Even still, the discover of these cellular pathways could lead to longer lives for humans. Pathways such as these were passed down to humans by evolution (conserved) so, the 500% increase in longevity that occurred in C.elegans after alteration could also occur in humans. Although the way in which these pathways affect each other is unclear, we now know that multiple genes and cellular pathways contribute to the aging process.

How do you think that the IIS and TOR pathways affect each other? If our lifespans are expanded in the future, what will be the moral and societal implications?

 

The Microwave. Cancer Causer? Or Convenient Cooking Appliance?

What is the Microwave?

So I’ll assume you all know what a microwave generally is. That black white or silver box on your kitchen counter that heats up your pasta at 1am. Letting you know its done with an alarm that’s far too loud. But what is it actually? How does it work? As stated in the first paragraph of this article, the discovery of the microwave was just an accident. The Microwaves emitted by various pieces of equipment were enough to heat foods and in the case of the story from the article, melt the scientist’s snack. The production of the microwave blew the minds of many. Providing a quick and easy way to near-instantly heat your food.

(microwave)

How Could It Be Bad for You?

Throughout my life, my father has always told me not to stand directly in front of the microwave while it was on. No matter how much I liked watching my snack spin and spin and spin in the magical machine, the thoughts of the horrifying radiation hurting me overtime was enough to deter me. But it is, in fact, untrue that microwaves cause cancer or any type of injury/illness due to its radiation. The device would need to be putting out much higher frequency wavelengths, not the microwaves that your microwave lets leak out through the door.

 

 

 

(Wave Structure) 

Is Your Microwave Killing You?

No, the answer is most likely no. More of the issue is what you are putting into the microwave. Putting metal in the microwave can be a terrible idea. Speaking from experience I’ve seen silverware spark in the microwave. Depending on the type of silverware and variety of utensil it may not go as poorly but never the less is a bad idea to try. Also, many sources suggest against putting plastic into the microwave just because of the interaction high heat and soft plastic can have together. As well as possibly melting, there is some interesting research to see if the heat will cause chemicals to leach into your food. Something that only sounds like a bad thing for human health. So is your microwave killing you? Most likely not, just use some common sense when reheating your leftovers in the middle of the night.

Do we never have to workoout again?

Could it really be possible to get all the benefits of a rigorous workout without moving a muscle?

Recent Biological findings show promise that protein supplements can cause similar effects as a full body workout. The protein is called Sestrin and as of now it has only showed compelling results in flies and mice. However this new drug could be the key to a more healthy population.

 

What evidence is there?

A Michigan University study set up an elaborate experiment involving flies climbing or flying up the inside of a test tube, only to be shaken back down to the bottom. This practice was repeated for hours on end to test the endurance of the flies. The researchers made use of multiple apparatus in order to effectively test multiple variables. One such variable was the amount of sestrin present in the flies muscles. This could be controlled through the genetic engineering of multiple generations of flies to select for certain traits like high or low amounts of sestrin. Through multiple lengthy trials it was determined that flies with higher amounts of sestrin showed better increases in endurance over time as well as perhaps the most important result, flies that were extremely abundant with sestrin were without exercise better suited to climb or fly for longer amounts of time than flies without it that had been training for longer. This result serves as a great case for why sestrin might be the super drug some speculate.

How does it work?

Sestrin, a part of a highly conserved family of proteins, is hypothesized to work by coordinating metabolic homeostasis by  selectively turning on and off different metabolic pathways as a means to imitate the effects of exercise.

What do you think?

Is sestrin truly the drug of the future? Personally I remain skeptical until  a multitude of studies come to similar conclusions. Are the days of gym memberships and unkept new years resolutions over? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

Photosynthesis and Climate

With the recent wild fires in Australia, climate change has been on everyone’s mind. According to the US Energy Information Administration, climate change is in part due to the excessive greenhouse gas emissions, 76% of which come from the burning of fossil fuels.

The greenhouse effect is when heat is trapped near the earths surface by greenhouse gases. There are natural green house gases like carbon dioxide from humans which raise the average temperature of the earth from around 0 degrees to 50, yet since we have continuously been burning more and more carbon dioxide through things like burning fossil fuels, the temperature of the earth keeps rising. Luckily, a group of researchers found a way to try to reduce that number.

A group of researchers tried to imitate photosynthesis by taking energy from the sun to generate chemical fuels, and were successful. Photosynthesis is the process that plants use in order to create food, and ultimately energy from the sun. In order to complete this conversion, H2O must be broken down and the hydrogen atoms must attach to carbon. Then eight electrons and four protons must be added to one molecule of carbon. Even with all these steps, the newly developed copper-iron based catalyst is what makes this process actually work. The carbon and iron “hold onto by their carbon and oxygen atoms“, which allows for enough time for hydrogen  to attach to the carbon.

The process would create a significant change in the amount of greenhouse gas emission if done on a large scale. For this to happen, a artificial photosynthesis panel would have to connect to a source of CO2. While this strategy would be financially costly, the reward for our earth would far surpass any monetary value.

To read more about this research and how it can help our earth, click here.

Will Electrifying Delivery Trucks Limit the Predicted CO2 Emissions of this Decade?

The Australia Wildfires have evoked a sense of urgency concerning the climate change issue. The numbers, specifically the 500 million animals killed in the fires, are astonishing and heartbreaking. The fires have been a result of record high temperatures and low moisture in the air and earth. Climate change caused these fires, and it will continue to make them worse. Many people now are wondering what will come next? What can we do to help Australia? What will we do to prevent more events like this?

Maxine Joselow writes for the Scientific American about the impact that the commercial delivery process has on the environment. The World Economic Forum released a report in early January, 2020 on the rise of e-commerce in major cities around the world. The report showed that the number of delivery vehicles in the top 100 cities is predicted to rise 36% within the next decade, and as a result, carbon dioxide emissions will rise 32% from the delivery traffic alone; that’s 6 million tons.

My brother recently received a camera drone for Christmas, and I was immediately reminded of it while reading this article. My initial reaction was, “just replace the trucks with drones,” since I remember hearing about the new advancements in drone delivery. However, Joselow reminded me that drone technology, though very advanced, is not yet at a level in which it could be used efficiently, safely, and practically. The possibility of drone delivery in the future also depends on the area in which they would be delivering. In urban communities, there is are safety concerns surrounding air traffic and pedestrians.

The report from the World Economic Forum recommended several solutions to the carbon-emitting delivery truck problem, including replacing trucks with drones and requiring all delivery trucks to be electric. One author at the World Economic Forum Richa Sahay analyzes supply chain and transport work, and he claims that making the switch from gas to electric delivery vehicles would make the biggest dent in carbon emission levels.

 

A New Way to View Pain

Often times when we discuss injuries we have sustained, indelible memories of vivid childhood accidents will rush to the surface of our thoughts perhaps even causing minor physical discomfort in the body part related to the accident. For some of us, when certain graphic images of wounds are shown, we will begin to experience a tingling sensation in those areas of our own bodies. For others, remembering how they broke a bone can seem anticlimactic. So from these observations, the question arises: why do we each remember pain the way that we do? 

In an article regarding mothers’ progressive memory of childbirth, the renowned online mental health resource Psych Central disclosed their groundbreaking research, which suggested a strong correlation between memory of childbirth and how many children these women ultimately had. About 50% of the mothers rated their childbirth as less painful than they did initially. While this data fails to suggest that the majority of women forget the intensity of their labor pains, it shows that a significant amount do. A potential explanation for this habit is that there is a positive correlation between being able to forget the pains of childbirth, and how many children one of the subjects had. This implies that being able to forget specific pains can be useful if the potential gain is more worthwhile than temporary pain. 

However, on the other end of the spectrum, remembering pain can be used to prevent the acquisition of future injuries in the same way. Discovery Magazine released an article about how memories are linked with pain through a protein called PKMzeta. It goes into the synapses between neurons, and strengthens bonds. This creates more connections for vivid memories to arise. The PKMzeta protein forms new connections in the spine after painful experiences, the same way it does when we are forming new memories. Thusly, our pain is a sign of new knowledge.

 

Arthritic Pain

Neurological Implications of a Dog’s Brain

In this article, the brains of dogs and their neurological capacity is explored.

Biology Letters published their results on the mechanisms of a dog’s brain.

Gregory Berns, a senior on this study stated, “Our work not only shows that dogs use a similar part of their brain to process numbers of objects as humans do — it shows that they don’t need to be trained to do it.”

In the study, an fMRI was used to scan the dogs’ brains. On these images, it was shown that the parietotemporal cortex produced a lot of contrast and response.

This system supports the ability to rapidly estimate of objects in a scene, such as the number of threats approaching or the amount of food available.

However, much of the research conducted included an intensive training of the dogs.

Berns is founder of the Dog Project which is an organization that studies the evolution of dogs. The project was to first to train dogs to voluntarily enter an fMRI scanner.

Berns states his findings, “Our results provide some of the strongest evidence yet that numerosity is a shared neural mechanism that goes back at least that far.”

Overall this study found that “new canine numerosity study suggests that a common neural mechanism has been deeply conserved across mammalian evolution.”‘

Is Air Pollution Exposure In Childhood Linked To Schizophrenia?

Research has shown that pollution affects physical health, but does air pollution also affect our psychological health? A study, which combines genetic data from iPSYCH with air pollution data from the Department of Environmental Science, reveals that children who are exposed to a high level of air pollution while growing up have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia.

“The study shows that the higher the level of air pollution, the higher the risk of schizophrenia. For each 10 ?g/m3 (concentration of air pollution per cubic metre) increase in the daily average, the risk of schizophrenia increases by approximately twenty per cent. Children who are exposed to an average daily level above 25 ?g/m3 have an approx. sixty per cent greater risk of developing schizophrenia compared to those who are exposed to less than 10 ?g/m3,” explains Senior Researcher Henriette Thisted Horsdal, who is behind the study.

To put this research into perspective, the lifetime risk of developing schizophrenia is approximately two percent, which is equal to two out of a hundred people developing schizophrenia in one’s life. For people exposed to the lowest level of air pollution, the lifetime risk is just under two percent. The lifetime risk for people exposed to the highest level of air pollution is approximately three percent.

“The risk of developing schizophrenia is also higher if you have a higher genetic liability for the disease. Our data shows that these associations are independent of each other. The association between air pollution and schizophrenia cannot be explained by a higher genetic liability in people who grow up in areas with high levels of air pollution,” says Henriette Thisted Horsdal about the study, which is the first of its kind to combine air pollution and genetics in relation to the risk of developing schizophrenia.

The study included 23,355 people in total. Out of those people, 3,531 developed schizophrenia. Through the results of this research one can see that there is an increased risk of schizophrenia when the level of air pollution during childhood increases; however, the researches cannot comment on the cause. Instead, the researched emphasize that further studies are needed before they can identify the cause of this association.

Schizophrenia is thought to mainly be a result of genetics, brain chemistry, substance use, and exposure to viruses or malnutrition before birth. So, I think it is very interesting that exposure to air pollution during childhood may be a cause as well. Additionally, I hope that these findings and further studies become very useful to schizophrenia research and prevention, as schizophrenia is a very serious mental illness and there is no cure.

 

Pneumonia Outbreak in China: What You Should Know.

Weeks before the starting of 2020, a mysterious case of pneumonia seemingly caused by a contagious virus broke in Wuhan, China. The outbreak occurred in a local fish market which sold the meat of various exotic animals. The fascinating thing about this strange case is that scientists were unable to link it to previously known about pathogens such as SARS, MERS, or influenza. The true culprit of the spreading infection remained a mystery until scientists were able to analyze the genetic code of what they believed was the virus causing the panic.

A New Coronavirus

On January 10th the DNA Genome of the virus was recorded and scientists were finally able to identify the virus as a pathogen known as a “coronavirus“. Coronaviruses are fairly common and spread all types of illnesses from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS. China and the world at large have actually gotten pretty familiar with handling these types of diseases as a global outbreak of SARS that originated in China occurred in 2003, barely a decade before the emergence of this new coronavirus. Thanks to this SARS outbreak, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800, China has since had a very cautionary culture when it comes to medical issues. It is not uncommon to see people wearing medical masks regularly in public in order to prevent contamination in the highly populated areas of China. One can assume that this culture in China has helped with the current outbreak’s speedy treatment.

Effects and Outcomes

As a result of the spreading of the virus in the seafood supermarket, 59 patients were brought to the hospital, seven of which were in critical condition. It is known that coronaviruses all come from animal to human transmission so it is no surprise that the virus would appear so rapidly in an area where many humans interact with many animals. Since the outbreak, this market has been closed as of January 1st to few’s surprise. However, it is sad to say that the virus has claimed the life of a 61 year old man how seemingly was weak from many other ailments from his old age. While the newfound coronavirus has been proven to be deadly, many medical professionals and The WHO (World Health Organization) say there should be no cause for great concern as the outbreak has seemingly been contained since late December and there are no true prospects of it becoming a world like epidemic like SARS in 2003. Nonetheless, this recent case of pathological disease spreading serves as a reminder of the deadly forces we must all be careful of every day.

Does The Time of Day Control Memory Ability?

Researchers University of Tokyo Department of Applied Biological Chemistry have found evidence that the time of day may influence one’s forgetfulness. They were able to study this by identifying and studying a gene in mice that controls memory. 

The key to their research was making a test that differentiates between never learning information versus not remembering information. To ensure that the mice learned new information, the mice were given a new object and then given the same object later in the day. The mice were considered to have “learned” new information if they spent less time exploring the new object. 

Researchers repeated this experiment with mice that had BMAL1 and with mice that did not have BMAL1. BMAL1 is a protein that controls different genes and normally fluctuates between high and low levels. Through tests, researchers discovered that the mice without the BMAL1 (normal mice), were more forgetful when they first woke up. 

Though the researcher’s findings may indicate that humans are also more forgetful early in the morning, more research meeds to be done. Scientists are currently trying to find ways to strengthen memory through the BMAL1 pathway, that can possibly help cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. They are also curious to determine the evolutionary benefit of having less memory ability later in the day. This study can be seen as the first step towards a major scientific discovery. 

Forbidden Baby Editing

We all at this point in life have come to know what gene editing is. The technology for it is slowly and forever becoming more and more advanced. The scary thing about editing genes is the fact that we have to potentially affect a baby’s life their entire time alive. It has many different problems which is why its going to take a long time for it to fully get approved in the hospital.

Well unfortunately in an article found here there was a fright to figure out that someone had actually edited the genomes of some babies without people knowing. Many scientists condemned scientist He Jianku as it came to light that he had done something that the science was not ready for yet. He used CRISPR Cas9 tech in order to alter some genes of a few babies. The definition of CRISPR is here but basically it is a general tech to edit the genomes of babies that haven’t been born yet. People were up in arms about the process because he had bypassed the ethical laws and needed up editing the genes of a real live human. People in the science community go on to say that the CRISPR technology just isn’t ready to be executed on a human. There needs to be many more trials before it is used on a person for real. There is progress to make sure this doesn’t happen such as fines and bans from research however they are trying to make sure that it doesn’t happen at all. It gives scientists a bad name and he is trying his best to not let that happen. Technology will always advance and the hard part is trying to make sure that tech is ethical. Hopefully this gives insight to how we can prevent things like this happening in this day and age

Trade Your Treadmill for… a Protein?

As humans, we have recognized that regular exercise has many benefits for everyday life. It helps our physique, our muscle and bone health, and it also is responsible for the release of endorphins that improve our mood. However, exercise is time consuming, and some of us just lack the motivation for regular physical exertion.  Scientists at Michigan Medicine have been researching the protein Sestrin in mice and flies, and they have found that “it can mimic many of exercise’s effects,” potentially creating a way to gain the benefits of exercise without actual exertion.

In their experiment, the Michigan scientists used two groups of flies. One group of flies was deprived os Sestrin, while the other group’s Sestrin levels were enhanced. When put through an extended period of exercise, the flies that lack Sestrin did not have any of the typical muscle development and endurance that comes from working out. The flies that received amplified amounts of Sestrin also didn’t progress. However, the Sestrin-boosted flies didn’t receive the benefits of exercise from exertion, because they had already acquired those benefits  from their increased Sestrin levels. In performing the same experiment with mice, “Mice without Sestrin lacked the improved aerobic capacity, improved respiration and fat burning typically associated with exercise.” According to the nature.com article “Sestrins are evolutionary conserved mediators of exercise benefits,” “in vertebrates, endurance training leads to increased mitochondrial biogenesis/efficiency, decreased triglyceride storage, improved insulin sensitivity, and protection of both muscle and neural functions.” Basically, if Sestrin indeed proves to be the magic exercise replacement, it could help alleviate some of the negative physical consequences of aging.

However, our scientists have 2 main problems in turning Sestrin to a mass produced supplement: it’s a very large molecule, and we are still unsure of how the body naturally produces sestrin during exercise. Therefore, we are not yet at a point where our exercise replacement is a reality, but the probability of future promising results is high.

Personally, I will have to see this protein work on humans before I take seriously the idea of an exercise replacement. A successful Sestrin supplement may be able to mimic the physical benefits exercise, but obtaining physical results through minimal work could be detrimental to the public’s general mentality. Receiving physical benefits through hard exercise teaches cause and effect, mental toughness,  the value of goals, and the satisfaction of well deserved rewards. If this supplement ends up being the fantasized work out supplement everyone is looking for, how will that result-without-the-work mentality impact how we treat other aspects of society? That’s why I don’t see this discovery as a total positive, but I’m excited to see what future studies bring in the development of this long fantasized product.

If you have anything other information or opinions on this topic, feel free to drop a comment below!

 

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