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Enhanced efficiency with Reduced Dosage: Advancement’s in Moderna’s mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine

Moderna has rolled our many versions of vaccines to fight against Covid-19 since the pandemic began in 2020. One of their latest versions of the Covid-19 vaccine is a streamlined version of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, called mRNA-1283. For those who don’t know, mRNA vaccines are vaccines that work by introducing a piece of mRNA that corresponds to a viral protein, usually a small piece of a protein found on the virus’s outer membrane. What is interesting about the mRNA-1283 vaccine and makes it seem quite efficient is that it is more effective at lower doses and lasts twice as long when stored in a refrigerator. This is likely due to a very unique feature of the mRNA-1283 vaccine: it does not include mRNA that corresponds to all parts of the famous SARS-CoV-2 spike protein—a protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus that allows the virus to penetrate host cells and cause infection. Instead, it includes mRNA that corresponds to just two specific key parts of the spike protein.

Everything About COVID-19 Vaccines

Many studies have shown that the most effective antibodies to fight against Covid-19 are those that bind to one of the two key sites of the spike protein that protrude from the virus’s surface. For instance, one of these two key sites is the region on the spike protein responsible for attaching to human cells and assisting the virus in entering the human cell. Therefore, antibodies that bind to this key site will block the spike protein from attaching to the human cell and entering the cell.

A majority of the current existing Covid-19 vaccines, including other existing Moderna vaccines, contains the entire spike protein. This causes the immune system to create antibodies against all parts of the spike protein, meaning that many of these antibodies are ineffective because not all parts of the spike protein are responsible for entering or harming human cells. On the other hand, Moderna’s mRNA-1283 vaccine consists only of mRNA coding for the two parts of the protein that contain the two key sites of the spike protein that are harmful to human cells, which means all of these antibodies are effective.

When the the first human trial of mRNA-1283 was given, it revealed that even when people were given a tenth of the full dose for one of Moderna’s original Covid-19 vaccines, called mRNA-1273, they produced an antibody response that was just as strong as a full dose of this original mRNA-1273 vaccine, according to a trial released in October 2022.  

Additionally, the mRNAs in the mRNA-1283 vaccine are shorter than those in the mRNA vaccines coding for the entire spike protein, reducing the chance of mRNA breakdown and allowing the vaccine to last longer. When stored at temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, the mRNA-1283 vaccine takes a year for 40 percent of the mRNAs to degrade, while the mRNAs in mRNA-1273 take only six months to degrade at these temperatures.

This connects to what we have learned in AP Bio class as in AP Bio we learned about the process of adaptive immunity. We learned that an adaptive immune response occurs when all the first and second line defenses of the body, such as skin or mucus, are unsuccessful in preventing a virus, such as Covid-19, or bacteria from spreading in the body. An adaptive immune response is then needed to target the virus or bacteria. Adaptive immune responses rely on two types of lymphocytes: B cells and T cells. B cells are the cells that take on the invading Pathogen, so in the case they would take on the SARS-CoV-2 in the body directly, while the T cells target the cells that were already infected by the virus. The adaptive immune response begins when the Macrophage cells of the body engulf the antigen through phagocytosis and then the vesicle formed for the antigen once engulfed inside the Macrophage fuses with a lysosome to break down the antigen. As the lysosome breaks down the antigen, it preserves the foreign antigen (epitope) which is the little part of the antigen that is recognized by the immune system. The epitope is then displayed on the outside of the macrophage membrane on the MHC protein. The T-helper cells see this displayed foreign antigen on the MHC protein and use their receptors to identify and recognize this foreign antigen. Once the T-helper Cell recognizes these proteins, it is now activated and releases interleukin which signals the start of the process to fight the foreign invader (the key sites on the spike protein) and activates the B and T cells. In the Humoral Response, the B cells bind to the foreign antigen that the T-helper cell recognized and once recognized by the B-cell, the T-helper cells help create the B-plasma cells. These B-plasma cells create antibodies to bind to and neutralize the foreign antigen.

In the case of covid-19, the foreign antigen, or small piece of the antigen that is recognized by the immune system, are the two key sites on the spike protein that we discussed.  The T-cells recognize these key sites when they are embedded on the MHC protein and activate which releases interleukin and signals the start to the immune response. One of these immune responses is the Humoral Response which activates the  B-cells to bind and recognize these key sites on the spike proteins as well. From here, the T-helper cells help create the B-plasma cells which create antibodies to surround and neutralize the two key parts of the spike protein (the foreign invader). Antibodies produced by covid-19 vaccines that are for the whole spike protein are producing some antibodies that are not going to surround and attack these two specific key sites of the spike protein/ the foreign antigen. On the other hand, the mRNA-1283 vaccine only produces antibodies that attack the specific key sites on the spike proteins (the foreign invader), so it is not producing any antibodies that are ineffective in fighting SARS-CoV-2. This makes the mRNA-1283 vaccine just as effective or more effective in smaller doses as other vaccines that produce antibodies for the whole spike protein are in larger doses because even though the vaccines for the whole spike protein are producing more antibodies, some of these antibodies don’t fight the specific foreign antigen that is preserved when the antigen is broken down by the lysosome in the Macrophage cell and needs an immune response, and instead try to fight the whole antigen (the whole spike protein) which is unnecessary.

As Covid-19 continues to evolve, more and more versions of Covid-19 vaccines are emerging, making it increasingly challenging for people like myself to decide which vaccine is truly ‘the best’ and should be taken. After delving deeper into the Moderna mRNA-1283 vaccine, it seems that, due to its exclusive focus on the key aspects of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, this version of the Covid-19 vaccine could indeed be at the top of the list for the most efficient Covid-19 vaccines. As someone who has fallen ill after receiving a Covid-19 vaccine in the past, the prospect of receiving a lower dosage of the Covid vaccine while still achieving the same or better effectiveness is definitely intriguing to me. When it is time for you to get your next Covid-19 vaccine, would you be interested in trying Moderna’s mRNA-1283 vaccine as your next Covid vaccination?


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)

Subvariant EG.5 is on the rise and dominating the U.S!

Since COVID’s peak in 2020, what has been going on? Is it still on the rise? According to a recent article from LiveScience, the omicron subvariant of Eris, or EG.5.1, has been the leading cause of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. In this research article, the data from a model of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , from July 23 to August 5 of 2023, EG.5 was 17.3%  of the new cases of COVID-19, which had previously only been 11.9% two weeks prior. Personally, seeing that jump in percentage within two weeks worries me about what harm this subvariant could cause. Additionally, more recently, EG.5 had a higher percentage of infection than any other omicron subvariant in the XBB lineage!

Map of countries with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant cases

But the real question is, what is EG.5? How is it a subvariant, and why is it dominating the U.S.? Well, EG.5 was derived from a branch of omicron, an XBB variant. Yet, how it differs from omicron is what makes it EG.5 and what is allowing it to become so prevalent. EG.5 has a mutation in its spike protein that helps evade the body’s immune system. This spike protein called S:F456L may not only be able to escape our immune system, but the mutation in its subvariant Eris, EG.5.1, has an additional spike change, S:Q52H, that can be beneficial for the virus itself. To further the idea that the virus is harmful, the World Health Organization currently lists the variant as “under monitoring.” The article says that the genetics of the virus, EG.5, can theoretically boost its transmissibility, meaning that this virus is more easily spread than past variants. This article, to some relief, does not have enough evidence of it yet. Still, according to Johns Hopkins, the mutation is known to avoid the immunity you get after infection or vaccination. I think the idea that the virus is benefiting itself while infecting millions of people is, to say the least, cause for worry. Knowing that this immune system-bypassing virus could infect my grandparents or fellow students is unthinkable.

Spike omicron mutations top

After hearing that, I wanted to know what that means. Is there going to be another outbreak? But there is no need to worry. In this article, using the Washington Post, it is displayed that EG.5 is only different because it has more ability to enter the cells and does not seem to be more lethal than other variants. Dr.K Srinath Reddy proposed that it had the same effect on the human body. As of July 2023, a variant XBB.1.16 was still more prevalent globally than EG.5, and the subvariant only accounted for 11.6%, previously 6.2% in June 2023, of the sampled SARS-CoV-2 sequences. Even though EG.5 is only 11.6%, it is still on the rise and will still infect more people in every country, so it is essential to know your options. According to YaleMedicine, updated vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna are not a perfect match for eradicating this subvariant and that the vaccine was aimed for a close relative called XBB.1.5. But, the CDC states that the updated vaccines, since XBB.1.5 and EG.5 are so similar, should give a reasonable degree of protection and that the genetic code among omicron subvariants allows for cross-protection.

COVID-19 Vaccine vial and syringe - US Census

Now, as an AP Bio student, this change of structure in COVID is something we have talked about a lot recently. We discussed how the SARS-CoV0-2 virus comprises five main parts: spike proteins, membrane proteins, viral genome, nucleocapsid protein, and envelope protein. To explain these briefly, the spike proteins, membrane proteins, and envelope proteins are on the virus’s surface. The nucleocapsid protein protects the RNA, the viral genome. For this particular variant, I want to speak about the spike proteins and how, in AP Biology, we learned that these spike proteins recognize membrane-bound proteins of human cells and bind to them. Since this is an omicron variant, it follows a Receptor-Mediated Endocytosis pathway, a form in which receptor proteins on the surface capture and encapsulate specific molecules. This makes it more infectious. Once the omicron virus senses the membrane-bound protein of ACE2, it can enter the cell. This works because the omicron variant uses the ACE2 protein to become an endosome, enter the cell by endocytosis, and then break through Receptor-Mediated Endocytosis.

Contrary to the more extended version for SARS-CoV-2, how a transmembrane protease serine 2 cuts the spike protein in a specific location to which the protein will then undergo changes to insert itself into the cell membrane, the omicron version skips these steps to be able to go straight into the cell. The ability to skip these steps also connects to my article because it says the EG.5 subvariant can enter cells even more quickly. At this faster rate, this process can be hazardous and can spread much more quickly, causing more death and destruction. Therefore, learning this in AP Biology and how this process works allowed me to realize how bad this variant can be if the cross-protection is insufficient! But, please, if you are an AP Bio student like me, let me know what you think. Do you think this is more dangerous than portrayed? What do you think we should be doing!?

The Revolutionary mRNA COVID Vaccines

Biochemists Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman have won the 2023 Nobel Prize in medicine/physiology. Why? Because they were the people behind the vaccines that just allowed us to control the worldwide COVID pandemic.

Usually, vaccine development takes about 5 to 10 years. However, more resources were put into the urgent battle of fighting the rapidly spreading COVID-19 than ever before: in record time, after the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was discovered, several pharmaceutical companies, namely Moderna and Pfizer, created messenger RNA vaccines. Then, for the first time ever, the FDA approved mRNA vaccines.

Covid Vaccine

Typical vaccines consist of weakened viruses or bacteria that provoke the immune system to make antibodies to protect against future infections:

As I learned in AP Bio class, once those weakened pathogens are allowed to get through the body’s innate defenses (skin, mucus, tears, saliva, etc.), macrophages and dendritic cells engulf the antigens of the foreign pathogens (the spike protein for coronavirus) through phagocytosis, which the phagocytes can display on the outside of their plasma membranes on MHC proteins, while simultaneously releasing chemical messengers called cytokines. Activated by the cytokines, certain T-helper cells then recognize the antigens displayed on certain MHC proteins and call for an appropriate response. If this process is in a cell, T-helper cells activate cytotoxic T cells and T-memory cells. However, if it is in the blood, T-helper cells activate B-plasma cells and B-memory cells. B-plasma cells are the cells that create antibodies, which effectively neutralize pathogens and B-memory cells remember how to create those antibodies significantly more effectively for better future protection.

However, it is a very costly and tedious process for scientists to get loads of the coronavirus and weaken it for vaccines. The way Pfizer and Moderna created working COVID vaccines so quickly, based on the research that Kariko and Weissman began in 2006, is by creating vaccines with mRNA that tells cells how to create weakened coronavirus proteins; this process is instead of scientists manually putting weakened proteins into vaccines and is significantly more efficient since our bodies are already good at making proteins based on DNA/RNA code.

The reason why mRNA vaccines have never been FDA approved before the COVID vaccines is because pumping mRNA into the body releases cytokines itself. As mentioned previously, in AP Bio we learned that cytokines trigger helper-T cells. If helper-T cells are triggered when they shouldn’t be, that could create many problems. So, to fix this problem, Kariko and Weissman slightly altered the structure of the RNA to lessen cytokine triggering. Additionally, they encased mRNA in bubbles of lipids. As I learned in AP Bio class, lipids are nonpolar, meaning they can travel through cell plasma membranes. This lipid bubble, therefore, allows the mRNA to travel directly to and inside the nuclei of cells without causing harm elsewhere. Then, the mRNA can tell ribosomes to create the certain weakened coronavirus proteins that trigger the immune response of creating antibodies as previously described.

With the help of the research of the very deserving 2023 medicine/physiology Nobel Prize winners, Weissman and Kariko, the problems with mRNA technologies have finally been resolved (for now). Thus, this more efficient and may we call it, revolutionary mRNA technology is now being looked at to potentially defend other viruses and even cancers. The opportunities for this technology seem extraordinary, but what other challenges will scientists and researchers face when trying to explore these opportunities?

I would argue it is time for them to explore and find out.

Long Term Health Risks From COVID-19 Infection

A recent study examining the health records of 140,000 U.S. veterans suggests that risks of health issues such as diabetes, fatigue, or blood clots may persist for at least two years after a COVID-19 infection. 

As learned in AP Biology, the fundamental method in which SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the cells involves the interaction between its spike protein (S-protein) and the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor present on the surface of human cells. Upon initial contact, the S-protein of the virus binds to the ACE2 receptor. This binding triggers a series of events that hijacks the host cell’s machinery to release viral RNA and replicate itself, finally generating new viral components. COVID-19 can also trigger an excessive immune response known as a cytokine storm, which might lead to T cell obliteration.

The study compared veterans who had been infected with the virus to nearly 6 million others who did not contract COVID-19, analyzing new diagnoses, lab results, and prescription records. The research identified health problems that emerged from a month after individuals contracted the virus.

The research team discovered that patients hospitalized during their initial COVID-19 cases had a higher likelihood of facing subsequent health problems. But those with milder initial infections showed a higher risk for approximately one-third of the medical issues analyzed compared to those who didn’t test positive for the virus. This group, comprising mostly milder COVID-19 cases, could potentially strain the healthcare system more, according to Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at the Veterans Affairs Saint Louis Health Care System.

The most prevalent issues observed align with commonly known long COVID symptoms found in other studies. These include fatigue, memory problems, loss of smell, blood clots, metabolic issues, and gastrointestinal problems. Furthermore, patients initially hospitalized were approximately 1.88 times more likely to experience acute gastritis (stomach inflammation) two years after infection compared to those without a COVID-19 record, while non-hospitalized patients had a risk factor of 1.44 times.

Finally, Al-Aly and colleagues determined that among every 1,000 individuals infected with the virus, there was a collective loss of 150 years of healthy life due to persistent symptoms in these patients. This stark revelation underscores the severe impact of long COVID, highlighting its destructiveness, as noted by McCorkell. Other studies, such as the U.S. Census’ Household Pulse Survey, have similarly noted how COVID disrupts the day-to-day lives of many patients.

Ultimately, with recent increases in COVID-19 transmissions, I strongly advocate for maintaining our vigilance and adhering to health guidelines, such as practicing good hand hygiene, and staying updated on vaccination recommendations. As a fellow germaphobe myself, I will certainly take heed of these practices. These measures remain crucial in curbing the spread of the virus and safeguarding both individual and community health. As the article mentions, even a mild COVID-19 infection could potentially lead to health issues in the months or years following the initial illness.

Let’s all do our part to keep our communities safe and healthy!

SARS-CoV-2 without background

Sticky Viruses – How Strengths of Adhesion Influence the Transmission of COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 without background

Keeping track of each new SARS-CoV-2 strain and variant may feel like learning a new language. The myriad of Greek letters used to designate each one quickly turns science into classics, so it’s understandable how one may get lost in the confusing terms. But keep calm, these identifiers are crucial for understanding how COVID-19 evolves. They help scientists organize the virus’ different traits and open a window into understanding its behavior at the molecular level. A recent experimental study has just discovered how one of the determining factors that contribute to virulence could be the strength with which the virus binds to the host cell. In a joint effort between the University of Auburn, University of Munich, and Utrecht University, scientists analyzed the virus’ atomic structure.

The team observed how the different variants’ spike proteins interacted with the human ACE-2 protein and found that Alpha’s docking sequence is much stronger than those of Beta and Gamma. However, these latter variants appeared equally virulent as Alpha, leading researchers to conclude that it was their ability to evade immune responses that compensated for their relatively weak adhesion. The lead experimental scientist, Dr. Bauer, took an innovative approach by using force stability – essentially the net force with which the virus binds to the protein receptor of the host cell – as a means of determining the strength of adhesion.

Being a respiratory virus, the cells to which COVID-19 primarily binds are those along the path air takes from the nostrils to the lungs. After making contact with one of these cells, the virus begins a docking sequence that will allow it to assume control of the cell’s replicative mechanisms. In one of the universe’s most fascinating existential tricks, the virus is neither living nor dead: it is simply an envelope filled with genetic material. If it wants to replicate itself, it can’t do it alone. The virus binds to an ACE-2, a common receptor protein on the outside of the phospholipid bilayer. Once firmly connected, the host cell sends lysosomes to digest the envelope, revealing the virus’ genetic information, which enters the cell through a pinocytotic vacuole. Once inside, the virus then hijacks the existing cell structures to replicate itself. After assembling an army of fellow viruses, the host cell ruptures, releasing legions of viruses to neighboring cells in an attempt to repeat and amplify the process. This rupturing is often the source of the soar throats from which infected patients suffer.

As someone who has in the past gone toe-to-toe with COVID-19, I can say that it is a formidable opponent. It is clever, elusive, and stubborn. For a while I felt only the most bitter animosity towards this microscopic speck, but after developing an understanding of its behavior and anatomy, I can now respect its sophisticated biological processes that aid in its reproduction. I still view it as the most heinous and lowest “life” forms in the universe, but at least I understand its point of view. Let me know what you think about this groundbreaking research! Will it prove pivotal for engineering future vaccines for specific variants? How fascinating and haunting that the severity of the illness can be determined by how firmly the virus snatches at your cells!

The Long Term Effects of COVID-19 Hidden Behind the Fog

COVID-19 was one of the biggest pandemics in United States history. It changed everything including schooling and many other aspects of life, but do you ever seem to forget what life was like before COVID-19? You may be thinking am I just getting old? Why am I losing my memory? Well, findings in Nature Medicine have shown that you may be suffering from what they are calling “Brain Fog”. This Brain Fog can result in recurring memory and concentration lapses that can make it difficult to function every day. You may be thinking, how does this even relate to COVID? Well, It is believed that this brain fog is developed from blood clots triggered by COVID.

Before we get into the brain fog, I want to explain how the body first reacts to COVID-19 entering your cells. AP Bio we learned, that your body activates its innate and adaptive immune systems. First, the innate system releases mast cells which release histamine along with macrophages that secrete cytokines. Cytokines are small proteins that are crucial in controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells. When released, they signal the immune system to do its job. We then see natural killer cells take out any damaged or infected cells while cytokines attract smaller phagocytes called neutrophils and digest pathogens. Along with the Innate response we see the Adaptive response. The adaptive response relies on B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. The B lymphocytes create the humoral response while the T activates the cell-mediated response. Both are just as important but different. When T-helper cells recognize the antigen it triggers both responses. In the cell-mediated response, the T-memory cells prevent reinfection while the T-killer cells go and kill any infected cells. In the Humoral response the B-plasma cells, secrete antibodies that bind to and neutralize the pathogen which is then engulfed by a macrophage, while B-memory cells also prevent reinfection. Even with all this protection people may still be left with long last symptoms including brain fog.

To find out if this brain fog really came from COVID, a psychiatrist from Oxford named Maxime Taquet took samples of over 1,800 people in the U.K. who had been hospitalized due to COVID-19 and made 6 six-month checks on their symptoms. When examining the blood, they found that people who still had “brain fog” tended to have elevated levels of at least one of two proteins. The first protein is called a D-dimer protein which is produced when a blood clot breaks down. Patients with high amounts of D-dimer tend to have memory problems yet the cognitive side seems to still be intact. Doctors believe these effects were caused by blood clots in the lungs, which lead to low oxygen levels in the brain. The second and seemingly more dangerous protein to find mass amounts of is fibrinogen. This protein is produced in the liver and causes clotting to stop bleeding. When patients have elevated amounts of fibrinogen during COVID-19, they seem to have memory loss along with scoring poorly on the cognitive test. These patients show signs of dementia. Taquet believes that fibrinogen may have caused blood clots in the brain or somewhere else that directly affects the brain.

SARS-CoV-2 without background

After hearing about the findings Resia Pretorius was very excited. From her own research, she has found connections between COVID and brain fog. She believes that the spike protein of COVID binds to the fibrinogen and causes it to change shape. But she believes this discovery can help determine ways to cure long COVID symptoms. So have you been affected by COVID’s brain fog or are you just getting old?

Clot Chronicles: Decoding the Intricacies of Proteins and Vaccines in COVID-19 Immunity

Are you vaccinated for COVID-19? Well, the article titled, Protein interaction causing rare but deadly vaccine-related clotting found, discusses a mechanism that has led people to deadly clots. These scientists identified that some individuals developed these clots after receiving certain COVID-19 vaccines. The research explains  Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombocytopenia and Thrombosis (VITT) which is a condition where the body produces blood clots. When a patient has this condition antibodies attach to a protein called Platelet Factor 4 (PF4), forming immune complexes. 

Protein PF4 PDB 1f9q(PF4)

Additionally, Platelet Factor 4 is a small cytokine in the CXC Chemokine family. Cytokines are small proteins that are released by macrophages to attack a virus.  Platelet Factor 4’s most prominent function is to promote blood coagulation; but, it is also involved in innate and adaptive immunity

The Immune System, as discussed in depth in my AP Biology class,  protects the body against pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. COVID-19 is an example of one of these viruses that infects the body through its various openings, most generally, the nose and mouth. Innate and Adaptive response are the two parts of the immune system. The innate response is something everyone is born with, works immediately upon infection, and is nonspecific which contrasts the adaptive immune response which is slower and more targeted. 

Returning to the vaccines, these complexes activate platelets and immune cells and lead to clotting and inflammation. Inflammatory responses are a result of the mast cells locating the “invader” and releasing histamine as an “alarm” to the body. Histamine causes inflammation in the body and an inflammatory response which is typically painful. When I had COVID I remember taking anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the pain I felt from the inflammatory response I was experiencing such as my high fever.

In summary, the ongoing research wants to find people who might be more likely to get VITT with future vaccines, so we can understand and manage the risks better, making vaccines more effective. 

After reading this article and doing outside research I believe this study to be highly important because researchers understand how to make vaccines safer for the future. As someone who has not been vaccinated it is valuable for me to know the risks and rewards of the vaccine. So … COVID-19 vax worth it or not? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Using Mosquitoes’ Greatest Asset Against Them

What if mosquitoes were not a threat anymore? The most deadly animal known to man, harmless?

Aedes aegypti CDC-Gathany

Even today, even with deaths down 31% from 2010 to 2019, mosquitoes still kill around 1 million people a year. According to the CDC, in 2020 they killed over 600,000 to malaria alone. Excluding other viruses such as dengue or West Nile virus.


But scientists intend to turn their affiliation with viruses into an advantage. By implanting their own virus into mosquitoes, one that can limit the transmissibility of other ones.


Wolbachia. A virus preexisting in an abundance of other bugs to the point of it not harming the ecosystem. A virus that can suppress the transmission of viruses. A virus that will be passed down the generations.


In Medellin, Colombia, a mosquito factory exists solely for this purpose. To breed enough of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, that will propagate this virus throughout the town. Rather than the insecticide trucks barrelling through the streets, spraying the air and killing the water, mosquito eggs are injected with incredibly fine needles, nurtured, then released. And there were results. Mosquitoes who picked up a virus were less likely to transmit it to humans. In Yogyakarta, Indonesia it worked too.


Whilst the A. aegypti mosquito originally originated from Africa, they escaped via the slave trade, and later, would follow the paths of troops in World War II. And now many communities are affected by it.


So the introduction of something to suppress these fatal diseases is good, right? 


This program is too new. The Wolbachia might work now, but it’s only a matter of time before these viruses mutate and harness the power of the increased number of mosquitoes. “Mosquito populations are increasing and additional methods are needed to control the mosquitos during their adult stage,” the EPA states in regards to the mosquito population in Puerto Rico. And they do not mention the added mosquito populations. If say, dengue mutates, changes even the slightest bit of its genetic code, and Wolbachia no longer works, then we have simply increased the problem, kicking that can down the road.

There is a chance that a virus will mutate every time it duplicates its RNA/DNA, and since it occurs quite frequently, there is a solid chance for a mutation that ignores Wolbachia to become prevalent in mosquitoes. If the epitope (the spike protein that antibodies recognize) in one of the viruses Wolbachia seeks to prevent changes significantly, Wolbachia’s gift will turn back into its weakness. Akin to how old Covid vaccines no longer work, but I digress.

I cannot say for certain that this may occur, but then viruses are like elusive fish: nearly impossible to predict or ensnare, yet still so prominent in its effects. 


Please tell me if you think this will work. These studies feel a little too optimistic, but I hope I’m wrong.


New COVID-19 Vaccine

Did you know that different variants of COVID-19 can have SUB variants as well? Because the Omicron variant is now the world’s most prevalent strain, it has been able to mutate into different sub variants. The XBB sub variants stood out because they contain a high number of genetic mutations compared to other variants. These mutations or changes help the virus avoid the body’s immune response even if one has been vaccinated for COVID-19 already. Specifically the XBB. 1.5 sub variant (also known as Kraken) has a mutation that helps the virus bind to cells making it more contagious. Scientists believe that XBB. 1.5 binds “more tightly to cells in the human body that the predecessors” (Andrea Garcia). This was the dominant strain in June 2023. 

COVID-19 vaccines (2021) A

The updated COVID-19 vaccine is now being recommended by the CDC and has been approved by the FDA as of this September. It is a monovalent or single component version that specifically targets this sub variant of Omicron (XBB. 1.5). This vaccine is meant to broaden vaccine-induced immunity and provide protection from other XBB sub variants as well. This is similar to how the flu shot works in that the formula changes every year depending on which strain is spreading the most at the time. The vaccine will not prevent every version of COVID-19, however, unless there is a great change in the genetics of the virus, it should provide at least partial protection from other strains as well. The treatments for COVID-19 such as antivirals will still work against this new XBB. 1.5 sub variant. 

In AP Biology, we learned about the immune system and how memory T cells and B cells are made to fight the same virus in the future. A virus enters the body through a macrophage or dendritic cell. Viral antigens are then presented on the surface of the dendritic cells or macrophages and infected cells. The viral antigen then binds to the Helper T cell and causes cytokines to be released to stimulate B cells and cytotoxic T cells. This creates a memory helper T cell. B cells divide to create plasma cells and memory B cells. The plasma cells secrete antibodies for this virus. 

This process is why it is important to receive this vaccine even if one has already been infected by COVID before or if one has received the vaccine before because of the new variants such as XBB. 1.5 that are emerging. The previous COVID-19 vaccine does not necessarily protect against the XBB subvariants and having COVID-19 previously and getting those antibodies through the process described above does not mean you have the antibodies for the new strains.

I still got COVID after having the vaccine because it was a different strain of the virus than the one being targeted in the vaccine. This is very common but hopefully this vaccine means that there will be one less sub variant to worry about! 

Aftermath Mysteries of COVID-19

Greetings, health explorers! Today, we’re diving into the twists and turns of a new study that unveils what happens in the aftermath of COVID-19. To put this into context, let’s picture this: you have now gotten rid of COVID from your body after suffering for a few days, but the health challenges still linger. A fresh study with 140,000 US veterans reveals how risks, from diabetes to fatigue, can play the long game for at least 2 YEARS! Crazy right? 

The research revealed that patients initially hospitalized during their COVID-19 cases were more likely to experience these health problems. However, even those with milder initial infections were still at a higher risk for about one-third of the analyzed medical issues compared to those who didn’t test positive. The most common problems align with long COVID symptoms such as fatigue, memory problems, loss of smell, blood clots, metabolic issues, and gastrointestinal problems. The study found that for every 1,000 people infected with the coronavirus, a cumulative 150 years of healthy life is lost due to persistent symptoms, highlighting the significant impact of long COVID. 

The article notes limitations. Some of these limitations include relying on electronic health records and potential skewing due to the predominantly male and older veteran population analyzed. It also did not include individuals who may have been infected but did not receive a positive test result in the early stages of the pandemic when testing was limited.

Wow, the impact of COVID-19 on long-term health is truly eye-opening! What are your thoughts on how we, as a society, can better address and manage the challenges posed by Long COVID? Share your insights below!

To set the stage, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines Long COVID, also known as Post-COVID Conditions, as the persistence or development of new symptoms three months post-initial SARS-CoV-2 infection, lasting at least two months with no other explanation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expand on this, noting that Long COVID encompasses a large variety of health issues affecting various body systems, even emerging after mild cases or in those who never tested positive for COVID.

Delving into the ideas, Dr. Akiko Iwasaki of the Yale School of Medicine and director of the Yale Center of Infection & Immunity, underscores that Long COVID is NOT A singular disease. Her research puts forward 4 hypotheses, suggesting that persistent virus remnants, autoimmunity triggered by B and T cells, reactivation of dormant viruses, and chronic changes post-inflammatory response may all contribute. SARS-CoV-2 without background

In AP Biology, we learned about the immune system and B and T cells. The immune system plays a crucial role in identifying and eliminating pathogens, but in some cases, remnants of the virus may persist. This situation involves the adaptive immune response, where B and T cells are responsible for recognizing and responding to specific pathogens. Autoimmunity is triggered by B and T cells. The immune system is designed to recognize and target foreign invaders. Sometimes, it can mistakenly attack the body’s own health cells, leading to autoimmune disorders. B and T cells are crucial to the adaptive immune response. 

How have your studies or interests in biology influenced your understanding of topics like the immune system and the function of B and T cells? Share your insights! Fimmu-11-579250-g003

Some statistics addressed in the Yale Medicine article, address the question of Long COVID’s trajectory, the Household Pulse Survey in the U.S. shows a potential decline, with reported symptoms dropping from 19% in June 2022 to 11% in January 2023. The true prevalence remains elusive, with estimates suggesting 65 million affected globally, potentially underreported due to the rise in at-home testing since 2022. 

Now, let’s connect this to the study involving 140,000 US veterans. The article  showcases the persistent health risks associated with COVID-19, unveiling that even individuals with milder initial infections face a higher risk of enduring medical issues. Some problems at the top of this list include: fatigue, memory problems, loss of smell, blood clots, metabolic issues, and gastrointestinal problems.  

For every 1,000 people infected, the cumulative loss of healthy life due to persistent symptoms amounts to a staggering 150 years. While the study acknowledges limitations, like reliance on electronic health records and potential population skew, it underscores the importance of protecting ourselves from COVID-19, given its potential long-term health consequences, even from seemingly mild infections. 

Long COVID demands continued attention, research, and comprehensive strategies for prevention and management. As we reflect on these findings, it is evident that understanding and addressing Long COVID is crucial.

What are your thoughts on this?

Shifting gears, another article from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  delves into new guidance for healthcare providers treating patients with post-COVID conditions. The term “long COVID” is introduced, emphasizing that these conditions can affect individuals regardless of their initial symptoms. The CDC highlights a broad spectrum of symptoms, including heart palpitations, cognitive impairment, insomnia, and post-exertional malaise (PEM). While primary care providers can manage many cases, the CDC warns against relying solely on diagnostic results. People with post-COVID conditions are advised to continue preventive measures, and COVID-19 vaccines are highly recommended. The guidance is subject to updates as more information becomes available.

The FAIR Health study mentioned in the CDC article, indicates that over 23% of COVID-19 patients experience post-COVID conditions, with pain, breathing difficulties, hyperlipidemia, malaise, and fatigue being common. Half of hospitalized patients developed post-COVID conditions, and there’s a higher risk of mortality following severe treatment, more so for hospitalized individuals. The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation admires the CDC’s guidance for improving healthcare responses for long COVID.

As I did my research surrounding a health challenge that stretches far beyond the initial impact of the pandemic, the significance hits close to home. It’s not just data; it’s the lived experiences of individuals moving through the long-lasting effects of COVID-19. This isn’t just a call to action; it’s a call for our collective attention, research efforts, and a compassionate response. This health issue isn’t confined to statistics; it touches the lives of millions worldwide, making it a cause that resonates deeply within us all.

Your Genetics May Have Saved You From Getting COVID-19

Were you one of the, what felt like fairly few, people who never got COVID-19 when it seemed like everyone else did? Well, maybe you did and you were asymptomatic with COVID-19. I remember when my whole family was sick with this virus, except for me. I always thought it was just luck, and you might have as well, but what if certain gene mutations can prevent the symptoms of this virus.

In a study done by the National Institute of Health, researchers looked into the genetic variations and how they affected T cells in the immune system. The focus of the study was the human leukocyte antigen complex (HLA). The proteins of these genes prevented people from people feeling symptoms of COVID-19. The proteins of HLA helped the immune system react to the SARS-CoV-2 virus by recognizing the infected cells by presenting pieces of pathogens to the T cells.

HLA-B*2705-peptide in complex with influenza nucleoprotein NP383-391

At the University of California, San Francisco, researchers studied unvaccinated bone marrow donated from The National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match. Out of 1,428 donors, 136 were asymptomatic for two weeks before and after testing positive COVID-19. The HLA variant, HLA-B*15:01, had a strong association with the asymptomatic donors. The team, along with researchers from La Trobe University in Australia, studied T-cell memory. They found that the T cells in people who had the HLA-B15 gene, and were never exposed to the COVID-19 virus, responded to the NQK-Q8 peptide in the virus and were able to have a faster immune response. Therefore, people who contain the HLA-B15 gene are prone to being asymptomatic to COVID.

In AP Biology we learned about the immune system’s response to viruses, like SARS-CoV-2. We learned that T-cells and Helper T Cells are part of cell-mediated immunity and are crucial for recognizing antigens and releasing cytokines to trigger immune responses. Then, B and T cells create antibodies and cytotoxic cells to kill off the virus. Memory B and T cells are also formed in order to generate a faster immune response if the body is exposed to the same virus again. Therefore, the immune response stimulated when a person contains the HLA-B15 gene is similar to one where the body uses memory cells to fight an infection.

So, have you never caught COVID-19, or are you one of the lucky people to contain the HLA-B15 gene?


New Injection Provides Hope for Regaining Smell Following COVID-19 Infection

Did you or someone you know ever contract COVID-19 and lose your sense of taste or smell? This is called Parosmia. There are people on social media who have tried to theorize ways to regain the ability to smell normally. For example, burning an orange peel. However, if your nasal cavity is damaged, regardless of the strong orange aroma, it may be believed that you will not be able to regain your sense of smell.

So, how was your nose damaged in the first place? The olfactory system contains a zone that detects scents towards the top of the nasal cavity. When molecules diffuse up into the nose, they dock in receptor proteins which ultimately initiates a cascade to create a cellular response. Hence, we are able to smell aromatic molecules.

When someone is infected with the SARS-CoV2 virus, the olfactory epithelial cells are damaged. Doctors have analyzed singular cells following a biopsy in order to examine the effect of the virus on healthy cells.  They were able to conclude that the body ignited a innate immunity response, in which swelling occurred where the nerve endings are located. While in some cases the swelling decreased following the innate response, other times, the swelling remained and damaged the tissue.

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

This can be explained by what we have learned in AP Biology. During an innate immune response, cells release histamines. These dilate blood vessels, while macrophages secrete cytokines. Cytokines attract phagocytes that allow the infected cells and pathogens to be destroyed. The proteins that attempt to interfere with the viruses cause more histamine to be released and overall more swelling. Therefore, the nasal cavity can remain damaged.

However, new research has found that an injection just might help patients with long COVID symptoms to regain their sense of smell. According to Dr. Adam Zoga, one way that patients have begun to smell again is by injecting stellate ganglion blocks into the neck on either side of the voice box. This reaches the stellate ganglia which contains nerve bundles that control your body’s fight-or-flight responses, known as the sympathetic nervous system. Patients also received a steroid injection to decrease swelling.

The patients that participated in the study did not all benefit from it. However, 22 of the 37 that followed up with administrators following the trial injection noticed improvements in one week. Dr. Leigh Sowerby analyzed this data and theorizes that this may work to treat Parosmia because the sense of smell is affected when the sympathetic nervous system is overactive. He believes that this injection “resets” the nervous system, allowing the nerve bundles to return to normal and patients to regain their sense of smell. However, because only 37 of the original 54 patients followed up after the injections, and there was no control group, researchers cannot further extended this claim.

COVID-19 Vaccine Going Retro?

Bottle with Coronavirus Vaccine and syringe with Novavax logo on white background
Have you ever wondered why the world started to use mRNA vaccines all of a sudden ever since the COVID-19 pandemic? Where did the traditional methods of vaccination go? This sudden shift in vaccine technology didn’t just happen by chance but was a result of years of scientific research and experiments. As the world faced an unprecedented pandemic, the traditional method of vaccination, while reliable, was slower and less effective to adapt to mutating virus than the mRNA vaccines, which is faster and more flexible when combating COVID-19 viruses. However, the traditional methods have returned! The new Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is an old-fashioned, protein-based approach to vaccination, a contrast to the mRNA technology used in Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The Novavax vaccine especially targets the SARS-CoV-2 variant XBB.1.5, which is a descendent of Omicron. 

Novavax’s Differences: A Protein-Based Approach
Unlike the mRNA vaccines, which use modified viral genetic materials to cause an immune response, Novavax relies on a more traditional approach which injects proteins that resemble SARS-CoV-2 directly into the body. This method has over 30 years of application in vaccines such as the Hepatitis B Vaccine. The Novavax Company also uses insect cells, such as moth cells, to produce SARS-CoV-2’s unique spike proteins. The reason why Novavax researchers use moth cells is because of its efficiency in producing spike proteins. They first select the desired genes that create the spike proteins, and then they put these kinds of genes into a baculovirus, which is basically an insect virus. The baculovirus will then infect moth cells and replicate rapidly inside them creating lots of spike proteins. Finally, the researchers will extract and use the spike proteins for vaccines. Additionally, Novavax’s formula also includes Matrix-M, a compound from Chilean Soapbark Trees, which will further enhance our immune system’s response to the spike protein.

Targeted Variants and Efficiency:                                                                    Novavax vaccines are developed specifically for the XBB.1.5 variant, and they are not optimized for the newer Eris and Pirola variants. However, vaccinologist Gregory Poland notes that all vaccinations, including Pfizer and Moderna, have all been “chasing the tail” of the emerging variants all over the pandemic, so Novavax is not alone in this situation. Additionally, all of the vaccine boosters seem to be able to provide some protection against new variants, but protein vaccinations are way slower to adapt to the new variants than mRNA vaccines. In terms of efficiency, according to infectious disease researcher Kirsten Lyke, Novavax stands on par with other mRNA vaccines. It is 55% effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms and 31% effective at preventing infections, and this is very similar to the mRNA vaccines.

Protein Synthesis Elongation.png (mRNA coding protein)

Side Effects and Availability:
When it comes to side effects, the Novavax booster demonstrates a lower risk of myocarditis(inflammation of heart muscle) or pericarditis(inflammation of the outer lining of the heart) compared to mRNA vaccines, but of course, it is not entirely risk-free. It also tends to have fewer side effects like muscle fatigue and nausea post-vaccination. A huge advantage of the Novavax vaccine is its availability, it can be stored in a typical refrigerator, making it considerably more accessible than mRNA vaccines, which require subfreezing storage. The Novavax booster is now available in pharmacies across the country, with the CDC recommending having two doses that are eight weeks apart for unvaccinated people.

Which one should I get?
Both the protein vaccines and the mRNA vaccines can help you fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and neither is better than the other. The mRNA vaccine has a faster efficiency in preventing COVID and has a higher adaptability to new variants, while the Novavax vaccine uses a more familiar technology, has a more accessible storage requirement, and has a lower risk of side effects post-vaccination. But no matter which kind of vaccine you think is better, Lyke suggests that the most important thing is to “pick one and get it.”

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (SARS-CoV-2)

Connecting to AP Biology:
In AP Biology, we’ve learned about how our bodies fight bacterial and viral infections and specifically talked about how the spike proteins on SARS-CoV-2 work to attack our bodies. When our body first recognizes the SARS-CoV-2 virus, white blood cells like Macrophages and Dendritic cells will engulf the virus, breaking it down into small pieces and displaying it to Helper T cells on their MHC proteins. The Helper T cells will then release Cytokines which will trigger both the Cell-mediated response and the Humoral response of your immune system. These responses will ultimately kill most of the bacteria/viruses in your body. Additionally, your immune system will then remember the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and if you ever get affected again, your immune system will immediately respond to it. Understanding how vaccines help your body defend against real viruses links directly to our studies on the human body’s defense mechanisms against foreign pathogens.

Leave a Comment!
COVID-19 is a years-long pandemic that still hasn’t ended today, I think it is really important for everyone to know how they can protect themselves through modern technologies and minimize the impact of the virus. I am also intrigued by how fast different vaccine technologies have evolved to help mankind to combat the virus. How do you feel about the re-introduction of protein-based vaccines like Novavax? Do you think this will change the public’s preferences on COVID-19 vaccines? Feel free to leave a comment below and we can discuss more about this topic! For more information on this post, go to for the latest research and updates.

Novavax: A Revolutionary Change to Covid Vaccines

Medical company Novavax introduced a new FDA-authorized COVID booster shot in early October, expanding the options of available COVID vaccines. This booster specifically targets the XBB.1.5 SARS-CoV-2 variant, a descendant of Omicron, distinguishing itself as the first protein vaccine in over a year. Unlike other mRNA vaccines, such as those developed by Pfizer and Moderna, Novavax employs a more traditional method, directly injecting proteins resembling those in SARS-CoV-2 into the body. The Novavax vaccine includes Matrix-M, a proprietary compound extracted from Chilean soapbark trees, enhancing the immune system. Matrix-M has also been integrated into other vaccines, including one endorsed by the World Health Organization for malaria.

Similar to the updated shots from Moderna and Pfizer, the Novavax vaccine is not optimized for newer virus versions like Eris and Pirola, as it is specifically designed to target the XBB.1.5 variant. Unlike mRNA vaccines, the Novavax vaccine is more convenient for distribution and storage, as it can be kept at normal refrigeration temperatures. However, the development of new formulas for emerging variants in protein vaccines takes longer compared to the adaptable mRNA vaccines.


Novavax demonstrates effectiveness similar to other COVID vaccines, with its booster being approximately 55% effective at preventing symptoms and 31% effective at preventing infection. Studies indicate that mixing and matching different vaccine types yield comparable antibody responses, with some studies favoring the use of both boosters, taking the mRNA after protein vaccines. The longevity of antibodies from the Novavax booster, which lasts longer than those from mRNA vaccines according to research, remains inconclusive due to confounding variables of preexisting immunity.

In terms of safety, the Novavax booster poses a lower risk of causing myocarditis or pericarditis compared to mRNA vaccines and shows fewer side effects in the initial 48 hours after vaccination. The booster is currently available in pharmacies, distributed to numerous locations, and is recommended as a single dose.

In AP Biology, we learned how mRNA vaccines for COVID work, as the vaccine introduces antigen-encoding mRNA into immune cells. These cells utilize the mRNA as a guide to produce foreign proteins resembling those created by the COVID virus. These protein molecules then trigger an adaptive immune response, instructing the body to recognize and eliminate the actual COVID virus.

Is the Novavax booster the real deal? mRNA vaccines, such as Moderna and Pfizer, have been proven effective and have worked extremely well in the past. Their contributors, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, were recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Novavax has just been approved with not much prior history in its effectiveness or side effects open to the public. Personally, I believe that the mRNA vaccines are way safer options regarding their previous successes, however, the benefits and pros of the Novavax listed by scientists and researchers might as well outweigh its uncertainty. If you have the choice of taking the new Novavax booster or the mRNA boosters, which one would you choose considering their pros and cons?

Unlocking the Mysteries of the Brain: Bridging Neuroscience and AP Biology

In recent years, neuroscience has unveiled exciting breakthroughs in our understanding of the human brain, revealing its intricate nature. Thanks to the National Institutes of Health’s BRAIN Initiative and the work of the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network, we are now diving deeper into the cellular makeup of the brain. This research aligns with our AP Biology lessons on cell structure. It highlights the highly organized nature of nerve cells, reinforcing the concept that cells are the fundamental building blocks of life.

Neuron Cell Body

One remarkable achievement of this research is the creation of detailed cell maps of human and nonhuman primate brains. This development aligns with our AP Biology class, where we have learned about the fundamental concept of cell structure. Cells are, indeed, the building blocks of life, and this research demonstrates how, even in the complex nervous system, all cells exhibit a specific and organized arrangement.

This exploration also highlights the intriguing similarities in the cellular and molecular properties of human and nonhuman primate brains. These shared features reflect our evolutionary history and the conserved nature of brain structure across different species. The research suggests that slight changes in gene expression during human evolution have led to adaptations in neuronal wiring and synaptic function, contributing to our remarkable ability to adapt, learn, and change.

In our recent studies on neurons, we have learned about the fascinating world of these specialized cells. Our understanding of neuron structure and function provides a foundation for comprehending the significance of the research conducted under the BRAIN Initiative. This supports that the brain’s structure is not fixed but adapts to meet the challenges it faces.
The primary goal of the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network is to create a comprehensive record of brain cells. This understanding aids in comprehension of the development and progression of brain disorders. By learning the cellular composition of the brain, we can address the challenges that arise when things go wrong, promising a brighter future in the field of brain science.

As we reflect on these intriguing connections between neuroscience and our AP Biology knowledge, it is evident that our class has equipped us with a fundamental understanding of cell structure. This knowledge has proven invaluable in making sense of groundbreaking neuroscience research. I find this as a very intriguing and exciting journey, and scientists are actively committed to understanding the brain’s remarkable adaptability, the key to its functioning and evolution. As we explore the fascinating connections between neuroscience and our AP Biology knowledge, how could this deeper understanding of the brain’s adaptability and structure impact the future of healthcare and treatments for neurological conditions? Feel free to share your views and insights!

Unlocking Nature’s Secret: Crafting Cellulose Gels by Mimicking Avian Saliva

Researchers at North Carolina State University have harnessed inspiration from the ingenious tactics of small birds’ nest-building processes to develop an eco-friendly and cost-effective method for developing cellulose gels. This freeze-thaw technique is not only straightforward but also holds promise for creating cellulose gels that find application in diverse fields, including the development of timed drug delivery systems. What’s more, this process is suitable to bamboo and other plant fibers containing lignin. Cellulose stands out as a versatile material in the production of hydrogels, indispensable in various applications, from contact lenses to wound care and drug delivery. However, the usual methods for creating hydrogels from cellulose often involve the use of toxic processes. Usually, making cellulose-based hydrogels requires dissolving cellulose and then forming the desired structure. This often involves using difficult, unstable, or unsafe chemicals. As Lucian Lucia, a professor at NC State, points out, “Normally, you have to first dissolve the cellulose and then induce it to crosslink or form the structure of interest, which often requires the use of difficult to handle, unstable, or toxic solvents.”

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

In a stroke of biomimicry, the researchers drew inspiration from the Swift family of birds, known for employing their saliva as a natural adhesive to bind twigs together during nest construction. The saliva encourages the fibers in the nest to interconnect, a phenomenon they sought to replicate with dissolved cellulose for crafting hydrogels. The process involved using water-soluble cellulose, specifically carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), into an acid solution, which was then dissolved. Powdered cellulose fiber was introduced to the solution, which was then subjected to four rounds of freezing and thawing, resulting in the creation of a cellulose gel. Lucia likened this process to adding a thickening agent to water, akin to thickening a pie filling. By adjusting the CMC’s pH, the water becomes thicker, making it act like glue. The successive freezing and thawing cycles cause the cellulose to compact and interweave, similar to the natural nest-building process of Swifts, but without the need for beaks and saliva. Freeze-drying the gels further led to the production of cellulose foam. The researchers successfully replicated this process using bamboo fibers, suggesting its potential applicability to a wide range of lignin and cellulose-containing fibers. These cellulose gels exhibit resilience and stability at room temperature and can be altered to degrade as needed, making them well-suited for a range of applications, including drug delivery. This approach offers an environmentally friendly means of processing otherwise insoluble cellulosic materials, harnessing the principles of biomimicry. This research has been documented in the journal Advanced Composites and Hybrid Materials, with Noureddine Abidi from Texas Tech University serving as a co-corresponding author. This article on developing eco-friendly cellulose gels using biomimicry in the nest-building process of Swift birds connects to the topics learned in AP Biology. In AP Biology, macromolecules are an essential topic that is studied, and cellulose, the substance examined in the article, is a complex carbohydrate (polysaccharide) that is one of the primary structural components of plant cell walls. It is composed of long chains of glucose molecules that link together to create a tough and rigid structure. This rigid structural integrity of plant cell walls or cellulose is what scientists sought to use to create an adaptable and compatible gel for scientific/medicinal use. After discovering the intriguing properties of cellulose based gels and there potential variety of uses in the medical field, Im left wondering about the potential evolution of cellulose utilization. Did you learn anything new about cellulose and its amazing properties?


Meet The Horrific Parasitic Wasp That Devours Its Victims From Inside Out!

Capitojoppa amazonica female

Scientists at Utah State University have recently discovered a new genus of parasitic wasps that employ a multitude of strategies involving impaling its victims, sucking on their blood, before finally eating them from inside out, all while laying its eggs inside of them.

I have always be fascinated with creepy insects and their distinctive characteristics and behaviors, but this newfound genus with such bizarre behavior might top my list as the scariest!

The name of this parasitic wasp, Capitojoppa amazonica, is a combination of ‘capito,’ alluding to its notably bulbous head, and ‘joppa,’ referencing to a similar genus of wasps.d

Brandon Claridge, a lead researcher of the project, stumbled upon this horrifying insect during their expedition in the National Reserve of Allpahuayo-Mishana in Peru, where they employed malaise traps to ensnare as many flying insects as possible. These traps eventually lead to the capture of a bright yellow wasp with a almond-shaped head and distinctive tube-like appendages. Upon closer examination, the scientist identified that the captured species was an adult female known as a ‘solitary endoparasitoid:’ a parasite that lays a single egg inside its host (caterpillars, beetles, spiders). After the egg hatches, the wasp larvae will start to eating the host from inside out.

‘Once the host is located and mounted, the female will frantically stroke it with her antennae,’ Claridge said to Live Science via email. He added, “If acceptable, the female will deposit a single egg inside the host by piercing it with her ovipositor (a tube-like, egg-laying organ).” The wasp’s oviposition also involves intricate cellular processes, which can potentially trigger the release of enzymes or chemicals to facilitate egg deposition.

Beyond depositing eggs within its host and consuming their internal organs, Capitojoppa amazonica can also exhibit some other eerie and fascinating behaviors. For instance, after stabbing their hosts, these wasps will proceed to extract hemolymph, a blood-like fluid found within insects, from the oozing wound.

Hemolymph can also carry hormones – insulin, growth hormones – to target cells or tissues. As learned in AP Biology, hormones are signaling molecules that regulate various physiological processes, and hemolymph can facilitate that process by transporting hormones to interact with specific receptor proteins on the surface or inside target cells. Then, once the hormone binds to its receptor, it triggers a cascade of cellular responses such as gene expression, activation of enzymes etc… to carry out vital functions within the cell, ensuring the well-being of the wasps.

According to Claridge, “females will even stab the host with the ovipositor and feed without laying an egg as it helps with gaining nutrients for egg maturation.”

This lethal parasitic wasp was only one out of the 109 newly identified species that the team has uncovered.

But what do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below about this incredible species.




Is the Gel Manicure worth the Damage to Your DNA?

Nail salons are filled with these UV lamps that create the perfect gel manicure which lasts for weeks and dries instantly. These manicures are advertised all around and consumers are sucked in, including myself. I love getting an easy gel manicure and saving myself the hassle of having chipped nails that require at least 20 minutes to dry. However, by placing our hands into these lamps, we are causing ourselves years of permanent damage to our DNA. But how does exposure to UV rays cause these intense issues? It all boils down to one thing; the DNA in our skin cells.

The two main types of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is less common but more dangerous than non-melanoma. While skin cancer can be hereditary, there is evidence that exposure to UV rays causes skin cancer. PubMed Central explains DNA damage caused by UV rays results in deamination, depurination, and depyrimidination. Deamination is the loss of an amino group from a compound that can convert one base to another, meaning the deamination of cytosine from UV rays would result in the production of uracil. Depurination and depyrimidination are the total removal of purine and pyrimidine bases. This removes the deoxyribose sugars in the cell which causes breakage in the DNA backbone. Exposure to these oxidative stressors can cause double DNA strand breaks which are the most dangerous as they leads to the loss of genetic material. These interferences damage the components of DNA molecules and the normal functions of the cells. The damage that UV rays cause to the DNA in skin cells lead to abnormal growth and the start of benign or malignant growths in the skin, which can ultimately lead to cancer. 

Direct and indirect DNA damage by ionizing radiation

A study done by the University of California used UV lamps that are used to cure gel manicures to study their affects on skin cells. They used three different cells types; adult human skin keratinocytes, human foreskin fibroblasts, and mouse embryonic fibroblasts. They observed that that exposure to the UV lamps for 20 minutes caused between 20-30 percent cell death, and three consecutive 20 minute exposures led to 65-70 percent cell death. Additionally, the exposure caused mitochondrial and DNA damage to the surviving cells. The mutations found in these cells are representative of those found in human skin cancer, proving that the consistent use of these lamps can lead to skin cancer. In another study, Maria Zhivagui, a postdoctoral scholar, exposed three cell types to acute and chronic exposure of UV lights. In both conditions, cell death, damage, and DNA mutations were observed. There was also an elevation of reactive oxygen species molecules which are known to cause DNA damage and mutations that are found in melanoma patients.

UV manicure lamps (15157277325)

Therefore, the study proves how damaging UV rays are to our cells. The risk of using these lamps is not worth the risks they bring to your DNA. Alternatives to UV lamps are just getting normal manicures, press on nails, or powder manicures, which do not require the exposure to UV rays.

This connects to what we have been learning in AP Biology because DNA’s structure is composed of nucleotide molecules. These nucleotides contain a phosphate group, deoxyribose sugar, and one the four nitrogenous bases; adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. UV damage can lead to chemical changes in these nitrogenous bases and to the structure of the DNA. Additionally, this can cause disruptions in the reading of genetic code during protein synthesis which results in incorrect sequence of amino acids. We have learned that altering amino acid structure completely changes the function of the proteins, which is why UV rays lead to mutations such as skin cancer.

So, next time you decide to get a gel manicure will you think about the damage you are causing to your DNA? Is the risk worth it?


Sour Science!

Have you ever enjoyed an orange and wondered what causes its amazing citrus flavor? Well, scientists have recently discovered the origins of citrus’s sour taste. 

Scientists have recently discovered the origins of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. In their study, they discovered a specific gene, PH4, that influences the fruits’ taste by regulating the fruits’ citric acid levels. Additionally, the researchers traced the fruits’ evolutionary journey from the Indian subcontinent to south-central China over millions of years and discussed influences that environments may have had on the citrus.

There are many reasons why these fruits evolved the way they did. One reason discussed in the article is human interference through selective breeding. Thousands of years ago, humans selectively bred certain types of citrus for food and medicinal purposes. Another reason they might have evolved to have more citric acid is to prevent bacterial infections. Bacteria, generally, prefer neutral environments with a pH of about 7. o.  Citric acid has a pH of about 3.2. Therefore, the more citric acid a fruit has the less likely bacteria can infect the fruit.

This relates to AP Bio through the involvement of genes in protein synthesis. During protein synthesis in a cell, the first thing that happens is transcription where information on the DNA is transcribed onto mRNA. The mRNA then is sent to the Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum where it is received on the cis face. There, on the ribosomes of the rough ER, the protein is synthesized. The type of protein that is synthesized here is determined by the information of the mRNA. Then the protein is sent to the Golgi where, based on the information from the mRNA, molecules are added to determine the final location of the protein. Genes, including PH4, are sections of DNA. Therefore, the PH4 gene, in part, determines what type of proteins are produced by the cell and where they go.

Wow! It is fascinating how a gene can influence an orange’s taste. I found this research so interesting because I love oranges. I wonder how other plants’ genes influence their taste?

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