BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Category: Student Post (Page 1 of 50)

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!

 

The Most Superior Drink Sweetener?

When you order your iced tea at a restaurant, you might be familiar with the packets of Sweet’N Low, Equal, or Splenda. But have you heard of Stevia? Stevia, or Stevia rebaudiana, is native to both Brazil and Paraguay, and is a member of the sunflower family. Despite being discovered by the Europeans in the early 1800s, local populations in South America have always used stevia as a sweetener. It took a long time for Western nations to access Stevia, because the main ingredient, Rebaudioside, is extremely expensive. This condensed extract is vital because it is considered safe by every governing body, whereas the entire stevia leaf was not put on the FDA’s Safe List due to low blood pressure concerns.

Stevia is extremely powerful. It is 200x sweeter than sugar! In the $14 billion market industry of sweeteners, Stevia’s global net worth is a whopping $336 million! Moreover, besides contributing greatly to the global sweetener economy, Stevia contributes greatly to pro-environmental efforts. In 2008, the FDA placed Stevia on the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) List. Stevia is sustainable, and is grown by farmers on small farms in tropical landscapes. The ingredients that are harvested, both Rebaudioside A and Rebaudioside M, are much sweeter and less bitter than the traditional products used in other sweeteners, like Truvia. However, Stevia produces very small quantities of Rebaudioside A and Rebaudioside M, which makes its value skyrocket even higher. Stevia has no calories, which makes it a great alternative to the many calories in sugar. If you were to replace sugar with Stevia in your daily eating routine (without eating more food), you would consume less calories, and Stevia would ultimately yield weight loss! Before you start flooding your kitchen with Stevia and throw out all of your sugar, it’s important to note that the FDA says Stevia can be harmful at “poison dose levels.” Just don’t eat Stevia at poison dose levels and you can go enjoy this incredible, sustainable sweetener!

 

Gut Microbes Help to Advance Flu Vaccines

Beneficial Gut Bacteria

This September, a potentially monumental study was published in the scientific journal, Cell, reporting that researchers have confirmed that microbes present in the gut can change, lower, or jumpstart our immune response.  Previously research has only been done with other mammals such as mice, and this was the first study that linked the results to human subjects. Since most previous trials were conducted on other animals, researchers such as Dan Littman who studies microbiota at NYU School Of Medicine, emphasized there are likely to be large differences in the results for humans versus other animals.   

Specifically, researchers found that people who have not received a flu shot or had the flu within the past 3 years and then were administered broad spectrum antibiotics, produced lower levels of antibodies to the influenza virus. Those subjects who did not receive the antibiotics produced more antibodies to the flu virus. This publication is so noteworthy because previously so little actual human clinical trials were performed to understand the role of the human gut microbiome and its relationship to the strength of our immune response.  

Previous research on how the flu vaccine works and its varying efficiency among many people has been done.  In 2011, Bali Pulendran, an immunologist at Stanford University, found that increased activity in the gene receptor that recognizes the bacterial protein flagellin, the core part flagella, seemed to stand out as the one major change among how well the flu shot was working in varying groups of people.  This underscores the connection between the immune system’s recognition of bacteria (especially gut microbes) and  how well people may respond to the flu vaccine.  

In 2014, this research was followed by gene knockouts being given to mice for the receptor for bacterial flagellin in the flu shot.  The results showed that the mice who received the knockouts made were antibodies than the control mice in the trial.  The researchers suspected this reduction was controlled by the absence or presence of gut microbes and their ability to sense flagellin.  To confirm this, researchers followed up with separate trial in which mice’s microbiota were reduced by the administration of antibiotics before receiving the flu vaccine and control mice who did not receive the antibiotics so their microbiomes remained present.  The results again showed a link that gut microbiota play a role in levels of antibodies produced against their flu shot.  Because of these results, it seemed obvious to test the same situation with humans. 

The current study did just that and was designed as a Phase 1 clinical trial to determine if gut microbes are connected to the efficiency of flu vaccine immunity.   11 adults received broad spectrum antibiotics for 5 days and 11 served as the control and did not receive antibodies.  All subjects receive the influenza vaccine on day 4. The people who received the antibiotics had reduced levels of gut microbes.  However, no major difference was observed in response to the vaccine. These results prompted researchers to dig deeper and they next investigated people who had not had the flu shot or suffered from the flu virus within the last 3 years.  They wanted subjects that would be relatively clear of flu antibodies to begin with. They repeat a very similar study with 11 people, 5 receiving the antibiotics and 6 serving as controls. Everyone got the flu vaccine, but this time the results showed a marked difference in vaccine induced immunity.  Subjects who received antibiotics and had fewer microbes presents, made far fewer flu-specific antibodies.   

This research is very promising not only in the field of flu vaccination, but could reveal that changes to microbiota can have profound impacts on future vaccine development for a variety of pathogens.  Because the results were so tiring, Pulendran is continuing to research deeper into the relationship between gut bacteria and vaccines, for viruses that may affect us in the future. This holds promise for development of vaccines for a wide range of pathogens that attack the human race.  

 

How are ocean conditions harming its animals?

A recent article written by Rachel Nuwer discusses the dangers of ocean acidification and how the ocean environment could compromise the fishes’ ability to swim and feed. The existence of one of the world’s most threatening predators is being threatened by ocean warming and acidification. Sharks might lose their place at the top of the marine food chain due to the changing ocean environment. As carbon dioxide levels rise in the ocean, it increases the acidity of the water. As this factor starts to rise, the teeth and scales of sharks may begin to damage, which compromises their ability to swim, hunt, and feed. According to research published in Scientific Reports, acid-base adjustments have proved to be the first piece of evidence of “dentical corrosion” caused by ocean acidification conditions. After investigating the impact of hypercapnia on a specific shark species and analyzing the acid-based regulation, the team concluded that the denticle corrosion could increase denticle turnover and compromise the skin and protection of the shark species.

A close up on the denticles and scales of a wild shark

The harsh conditions placed on the sharks could cause several consequences and ultimately could affect the whole ocean community. Biologist Lutz Auerswalk states that sharks could be displaced as apex predators, which could disrupt the whole food chain. In addition, great white sharks are already endangered, and these conditions could wipe them out completely, he states. Ocean research Sarika Singh and Auerswald, while studying over beers, stumbled upon a unique idea. After realizing that the high acidity of beet and many other carbonated beverages causes human teeth to erode, they wondered what effect more acidic ocean water might have on shark teeth.

Most studies on ocean acidification examine species that specifically build shells or other calcium-based structures, including corals and shellfish. Because sharks are large and challenging to work with, only a few studies have been conducted about how acidification might impact these animals. Only one paper has examined the effect of pH on sharks’ skin denticles or scales. The study used small-spotted catsharks and exposed them to different environments and filmed their swimming patterns. After analyzing a pectoral fin skin sample, they did not find a specific impact. However, the results were possible constrained by the low carbon dioxide concentration the researches used, compared with the high levels of acidity already present in many oceans.

To begin exploring this question for themselves, Auerswald and Singh conducted an experiment and focused on puff adder shy sharks, a small species that is easy to handle. They decided to investigate the acidification effects on the bigger scales. They divided the sharks into control and experimental groups and observed the results. After a few months, the electron-microscope analysis revealed that the concentrations of calcium and phosphate in the sharks’ denticles were significantly reduced. They noticed damaged scales on many of the sharks as well. Though the corroded scales might not impact their ability to hunt, for larger species such as the great white shark, scales play an essential role in hydrodynamics. Because denticles are responsible for an increase in swimming speed, damaged denticles could slow sharks down and make it more difficult for them to catch prey. Because many animals have been wiped out, we must strive to protect all the species that are deeply impacted by this condition.

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