BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Category: Student Post (Page 2 of 54)

To Smell or Not to Smell?: The Dangers of Covid-19 on your Senses

Out of all the symptoms caused by Covid-19, one of the most bizarre was the complete loss of taste and smell. The loss of taste and smell, more formally known as anosmia and ageusia, is now a very common symptom of Covid-19. Over 80% of people who catch the virus experience it, and it has become one of the most effective ways to diagnose the virus. However, the loss of taste and smell is different for Covid-19 than a regular cold or flu. For Covid-19 loss of taste and smell occurs regardless of a stuffy nose and it can last from 8 days to a whole month. In worse case scenarios those senses don’t come back at all.  Although this is a widely known symptom of Covid-19, have you stopped and wondered why this occurs? 

At first there was a lot of confusion as to why the virus affected our taste and smell. Some scientists thought signs of anosmia meant Covid-19 had entered the brain through the nose. This then damages the olfactory sensory neurons (sensory neurons in the nose) causing lasting damage to the brain. However, with more research and data this fortunately doesn’t seem to be the case. Experts at the Harvard Medical School have been conducting research on this topic and have come up with a possible reason why people have been experiencing anosmia.  To understand how the virus affects people, you first need to know how the virus enters the body. The virus enters the body through a process called receptor-mediated endocytosis. The virus enters the body through the nose and mouth then binds to a certain receptor called the ACE2 receptor protein found in many parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver and kidney. After binding to the receptor the virus enters the cell and releases its own genetic material that gets copied to produce more of it as well as more viruses to spread to the whole body. The researchers at the Harvard Medical School have found that olfactory sensory neurons don’t contain the ACE2 receptor protein, so there isn’t a way that the virus could enter through those cells. Instead they believe the virus affects nonneuronal cells that support the olfactory sensory neurons, such as basal cells and sustentacular cells found in the olfactory epithelium. The virus affecting these cells is what might be causing the loss of smell due to the sensory neurons not being able to function properly without it’s normal support.  There is a lot less known about why the loss there is a loss of taste as well, since taste receptor cells also don’t contain the ACE2 receptor protein. There is still a lot of speculation and a lot more research needed to be done.  However this is good progress and some insight as to how this virus is affecting the senses. 

As stated before most Covid-19 cases people get their sense of taste and smell back, but what happens if your fully recovered and your senses still haven’t returned? In one severe case a teen named Kenny Mayfield caught the virus and has yet to get his senses back. In March, when little was known about the virus, Kenny had been suffering through Covid-19, but wasn’t sure due to lack of testing and knowledge available during that time. After several months when he tested positive for antibodies he was certain that was the case. Although he was no longer suffering from the virus itself, he still had to face the consequences of it, his sense of smell had not returned. Now months later he is still trying to regain his sense of smell. He practices scent retraining to get back his senses, but the process could take 6 months to a year for it to get back to normal. He is able to taste, but without his scent it has become less enjoyable to him, causing him to lose his appetite and lose weight. There have been several other cases just like this one. A man named Eian Kantor has gone 7 month without his senses and is desperately trying to get them back to no avail. Another woman named Freya Sawbridge has begun to regain her sense of taste and smell, but claims everything is warped and unpleasant. Not only with food, these loss of senses can be incredibly dangerous if you can’t smell a gas leak or a fire.  Covid-19 can have a serious effect on your sense of taste and smell and should be taken much more seriously.

The most important thing you can take from this article is awareness. Although it is known that you lose your sense of taste and smell due to Covid- 19, I picked this specific topic because I’ve been very curious about why and how this occurs. I wanted to know more information on it.  Many people shrug off the symptom of loss and taste and smell, because they feel guaranteed that they will get it back. However, like these cases described, it is not always a definite guarantee things will go back to normal. You could end up never getting your senses back or have them return very altered. That is why it is essential to stay safe and keep yourself and others protected. Don’t take the risk, because you could be the one person to experience long term damage that could change your life forever. 

 

How Could the Coronavirus Pandemic Harm the Environment?

In light of the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, the worldwide pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2, and all of its negative effects, people have been searching for some silver lining to the whole mess. I am someone who is passionate about saving the environment, and I was thrilled to hear about positive environmental outcomes that the pandemic caused. Unfortunately, while rumors have circled around that the environment has benefitted from quarantine, experts are now saying the opposite could soon be true. It is hard to tell what the future will hold, but signs point to a risk of a future with more traffic, pollution, and resulting climate change. 

During April, the prime of stay-at-home orders and when most people were on full lockdown, daily global carbon emissions were down 17% from 2019. However, by June they were only down about 5% from 2019, and at this point many people were still not going about daily life like “normal.” Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia in Britain says that “as soon as the restrictions are released, we go right back to where we were.” A somewhat similar situation during the 2007-2008 financial crisis provides some insight into the future. At the time, emissions dropped, but later rose right back up. 

China exhibits an example of a quickly diminished hope of change in their air quality. As they were the first country to shut down, they had a dramatic shift in air quality due to slowed manufacturing and transportation. However, they were also one of the first countries to begin reopening, and this change did not last long. Factories pushed to make up for lost time and the pollution consequently returned, even growing to higher levels than before the pandemic in certain places. Traffic levels have also apparently bounced back to the same magnitude as before the pandemic, despite the fact that there are still people who have not yet returned to regular life and are unaccounted for in this statistic. Furthermore, industries in fossil fuels, plastics, airlines, automobiles, etc. have been negatively impacted by the virus and now are searching for any way they can to make a profit. Governments including the US have complied with their pleas for cash, regulatory rollbacks, and other “special favors.” As a result, “there’s a serious risk that polluters could emerge from this crisis bolder and potentially more profitable than ever,” says Lukas Ross, a senior policy analyst at Friends of the Earth. 

Another devastating example of negative environmental impacts can be seen in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. During the pandemic illegal loggers, people who harvest, transport, process, buy, or sell timber in violation of national or subnational laws, took advantage of the “smokescreen” provided by the pandemic and caused destruction in the rainforest that surpassed amounts in previous years. According to satellite data, 64% more land was cleared in April 2020 than in April 2019, despite 2019 being a record year for deforestation for the past decade. This is significant because the Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in regulating the world’s oxygen and carbon cycles, producing roughly six percent of the world’s oxygen. As we know from biology class, oxygen is essential as it is one of the main building blocks of life. Our cells need oxygen to produce various proteins, and ultimately more cells. Oxygen is also crucial in many of our body systems. Without oxygen, the creation of carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and lipids would be impossible. The Amazon, which produces a significant amount of oxygen, is being destroyed more and more every year. The rainforest is also considered a carbon sink, meaning it absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, lowering CO2 concentrations. Its function as a carbon sink helps combat CO2 levels in the atmosphere and climate change.

It is unknown what else is in store for the environment in the remainder of the pandemic and in coming years, but we can only hope for the best.

The Climate of COVID-19

COVID-19 has opened the door for speculations about the trajectory of climate change. Although initially I would have expected the pandemic to solely have beneficial impacts on climate change, there are plenty of negative developments as well.

The pandemic decreased in transportation and industrial activity leading to a 17 percent drop in daily global carbon emissions in April. But…

“CO2 levels in the atmosphere reached their highest monthly average ever recorded in May — 417.1 parts per million. This is because the carbon dioxide humans have already emitted can remain in the atmosphere for a hundred years; some of it could last tens of thousands of years.”

Some long term issues COVID-19 may cause in terms of climate change include…

Amazon Deforestation:  The Amazon rainforest absorbs two billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere a year and is one of the most effective ways of mitigating carbon in the atmosphere. While Brazil was focusing on controlling the virus, illegal loggers were taking advantage of the forest: 464 square miles of the rainforest was destroyed. 

Climate policies: Countries and companies are inclined to delay or cancel investments in climate action policies if their income has been impacted by the pandemic. 

For example, President Trump has weakened the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to speed construction permits. 

Scientific research: Quarantine and travel bans have restricted scientists from traveling to do their fieldwork, and there’s a limit to how much can be accomplished with data and computers alone. 

COVID-19 may result in an approximately five to eight percent reduction in average global emissions for the year, and while this is a small amount in the context of the whole system, it offers a rare opportunity to see how Earth responds to cuts on carbon emissions.“

Plastic: COVID-19 has increased the need for plastic gloves and masks, and plexiglass dividers in public spaces.

This results in more litter, particularly gloves and masks. Covid related waste is already washing up on shores around the world. The use of plastic packaging and bags has soared because restaurants rely on take-out and delivery food. Ordering all sorts of other items online has also resulted in more packaging materials, increasing the carbon footprint of e-commerce. 

More cars: The CDC has urged companies to offer incentives to encourage people to ride or drive alone to minimize contact with others. These guidelines are prompting more individual car use, which will cause traffic congestion and air pollution, and increase greenhouse gas emissions. Also, people are moving out of cities and to suburbs which result in more driving. 

Looking at the positive climate outcomes of the pandemic…

Green recovery: “The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has put forth the world’s greenest stimulus plan — a 750 billion euro ($825 billion) economic recovery plan with the goal for the EU to be carbon neutral by 2050.”

The U.S. Treasury Department has given renewable energy projects more time to take advantage of tax credits.

Transportation: To give alternatives to public transportation, cities have closed off streets for pedestrians and increased bike lanes.

Travel: Transportation is responsible for 23% of global carbon emissions, with 11% of it’s greenhouse gas emissions due to aviation. The decrease in international air travel due to COVID-19 has reduced CO2 emissions.

With people working from home, there will continue to be less international business travel. International trade may also decrease as countries recognize the need to produce more goods domestically.

Living simply: The pandemic has restricted eating out, also restricting the processing, packaging and transporting of food that add to our carbon footprint. More people may be trying to eat less meat, eat more locally or grow a garden, and stay away from processed foods to maintain a healthier immune system. With the scary reality of empty shelves in stores at the beginning of the pandemic, there is a lasting inclination to not waste food. 

In AP Bio class, we recently learned about the internal effects of eating unhealthy, even comparing two lifestyles in a lab. We found that a person’s food choices directly correlate with the demand for insulin. When a person eats more unhealthy food, they gain more glucose than they would eating healthy food as seen in the chart. When a person had two unhealthy meals they gained 40 glucose and used 18 insulin while when they had two healthy meals they gained 20 glucose and only used 8 insulin. They have to regulate the glucose in their body much more when they eat unhealthy rather than when they eat healthy. In learning about the immune system,  in order for the system to protect the body from pathogens, cellular defenses benefits from healthy cells. The different systems of the body are all connected, when you eat healthy, it benefits your systems at a cellular level.

There has been a drop in the production of consumer goods which contribute to climate change with raw materials extraction, processing, logistics, retail and storage. 

With “normal” sources of daily entertainment shut down, people have been spending more time in nature, potentially growing an appreciation for nature. Hopefully people will protect and care more for the environment.

Monoclonal Antibodies: The Coronavirus Neutralizer

        An article published by ScienceNews discusses the possible usage of lab-made monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19 patients. The first study surrounding monoclonal antibodies suggests that monoclonal antibody drugs can help reduce the number of COVID-19 patients who need a ventilator. The second study explores how the monoclonal antibody drugs can help reduce the amount of COVID-19 viruses in the body, and it explores what the ideal dosage would be to induce the best results to fight against COVID-19.

        In general, antibodies attach to a specific antigen on a virus or infection to send signals to the cell to attack the invader. Monoclonal antibodies can be specifically made to target a specific virus and reduce its ability to replicate, namely, the coronavirus. One of these lab-made monoclonal antibodies is tocilizumab, which reduces inflammation caused by the coronavirus. The first trial of tocilizumab done by Genentech, a biotechnology company, was composed of 452 people who had severe COVID-19 symptoms. It was found that tocilizumab did not reduce the likelihood of death or decrease the intensity of symptoms. However, in phase three of the second trial, Genentech found that out of 389 patients hospitalized due to coronavirus infection that were given tocilizumab were 44% less likely to need a ventilator.

        Tocilizumab can also help combat cytokine storms- a very dangerous reaction to the coronavirus. When a pathogen- the coronavirus in this case- enters the cell, mast cells release histamine. Large phagocytic cells also release cytokines to trigger an innate cellular defense. During a cytokine storm, a large number of cytokines (a type of immune system protein) are secreted. This large amount creates an immune response in which human cells start to attack their own cells. Mukesh Kuma, an immunologist at Georgia State University in Atlanta found that the amount of cytokines produced as a result of SARS-CoV-2 infections is almost 50 times higher than Zika or West Nile virus infections.

        The article also discusses the use of LY-CoV555. LY-CoV555 is another type of monoclonal antibody. It specifically targets the coronavirus’ spike protein. The spike proteins on the coronavirus attach to the ACE2 receptor protein on human cells. This activates the A2 domain, and the virus can then fuse with the host cell membrane. By doing so, the spike protein acts as a key to get into the cell. The virus does not have to undergo receptor-mediated endocytosis, so the virus can enter the cell without a phospholipid membrane enclosing it. By attacking this spike protein, the LY-CoV55 destroys the virus’s ability to enter the cell. After discovering that LY-CoV555 was successful in reducing coronavirus symptoms, scientists conducted tests to find the ideal amount of LY-CoV555 dosage. They found that those who were given a “medium” amount of the dosage had the most success; 1.7 % of people with the medium dosage ended up being hospitalized, while about 9% of people who received a placebo were hospitalized. 

        Bamlanivimab is another type of monoclonal antibody specific for the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. It also stops the coronavirus from attaching to the ACE2 receptor protein and prevents it from passing through the human cell membrane to its interior. On November 9th, 2020, the FDA recently allowed the emergency use of the Bamlanivimab antibody for those infected by the virus that is twelve years or older and is at high risk for the deadly side effects of the coronavirus.

        Rajesh Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at Harvard Medical School, and other scientists think that these trials are an important step, as they show that an monoclonal antibody is having an antiviral effect. While I have experienced any of the monoclonal antibody drugs, I think that they are a progressive move. If monoclonal antibodies can be distributed to various countries, I think that they could be a useful temporary solution for the coronavirus while the world awaits a vaccine in the coming winter months. 

        Do you think monoclonal antibodies could be helpful to COVID-19 patients? Would you prefer monoclonal antibody drugs to a COVID-19 vaccine? Comment down below!

The Superhero Powers of COVID-19 Antibodies!

Antibodies are superheros that could save many people from the devastating effects of COVID-19. Defined broadly, antibodies are proteins in the blood that are formed in order to fight against antigens and foreign substances. An article put out by the CDC on November 3, 2020, states that there is not enough information to make a formal conclusion regarding the ability of COVID-19 antibodies to protect someone from being infected again by the virus. Nonetheless, a more recent article released by Nature on December 7, 2020, counteracted that statement by analyzing a study in which Dan Barouch and his colleagues tested which elements defend against COVID-19 using rhesus macaques (monkeys). According to the study, only a very low level of antibodies is required to defend a host against COVID-19. Furthermore, when antibodies are low, T cells are found to contribute to immunity.

In the study, the team took antibodies from masques recovering from SARS-CoV-2 and distributed the antibodies to healthy masques. The antibodies successfully protected the masques from the virus and even activated antibody-dependent natural killer cells, boosting immunity. These results suggest that the injection of antibodies could be very successful in defending individuals from COVID-19.

This information regarding antibodies connects to topics covered in AP Biology. Our immune system protects our body against pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 through adaptive immunity. Two types of lymphocytes are necessary for an adaptive response: B Lymphocytes and T Lymphocytes. B cells are responsible for a humoral response (or antibody-meditated response) and secrete antibodies. Thus, when someone contracts COVID-19, the activated B cells in their body secrete antibodies that will bind to and neutralize SARS-CoV-2.

The fact that only a low level of antibodies is required to defend a host against COVID-19 is vital information for scientists. Extracting the antibody-producing B cells of an infected patient, medical experts could use the genetic information to create a massive amount of antibodies to be turned into a drug for distribution. This injection would help patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 fight off COVID-19. Thus, antibodies could save many lives and are, therefore, real life superheros!

Vaccines: The Start of the End?

As you all know, unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, COVID-19 is something that has most likely impacted everyone on the planet in some way, and in some ways worse than others. At this point in time, I think we can all agree that we just want this madness to end, which is looking like it will come from a vaccine. The vaccine trial process began in March of 2020, where phase 1 was conducted, which was giving the vaccine to healthy volunteers to test the safety and how the vaccine reacts in the human body. This first version of the vaccine was a two dose vaccine, which was designed to get the immune system to create antibodies to fight against what is called the “spike” of the virus, which is how the virus attaches itself and enters human cells. In this specific testing, the researchers used a total of 45 healthy adults ranging from 18 to 55 years of age, each of which receiving two injections of the vaccine, ranging in doses of 25, 100, and 25o micrograms. From this testing, participants received no serious side effects from the vaccine, however, more than half of the participants reported feeling fatigued, chills, and pain at the injection site. This is similar in concept to the taste bud lab we did during class recently, as the miraculin tablets altered our taste buds to have change the taste of certain food items, similar to how the vaccine test altered how the participants felt after taking the test vaccine.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the goal is for vaccines to be distributed by the end of 2020 in the United States. However, when a vaccine is approved and authorized for distribution, there may not be enough resources for all adults to receive the vaccine when it first comes out. If this is the case, where a vaccine is approved by the end of 2020, and there are not enough resources for all adults at the time, over time, resources will increase leading to all adults being able to have received the vaccine at some point in 2021. As for children, a vaccine may not be available to them as soon as it is available for adults, as more studies are needed to complete a safe vaccine for young children.

 

Therapeutics: Can they really beat COVID-19?

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19) struck the world beginning  in early February of 2020, scientists are struggling to find new ways to combat such a violent and airborne virus. As scientist all over the world race to find a vaccine for this virus, others are studying to find new therapeutics to combat and minimize the effects. A team of researchers at University of Georgia have successfully demonstrated that a set of “drug-like small molecules can block the activity of a key SARS-CoV-2 protein — providing a promising path for new COVID-19 therapeutics”. The team of researchers from UGA were the first to evaluate the SARS-CoV-2  protein PLpro, which is an essential part of the coronavirus’s  replication and ability to suppress host immune function. Scott Pegan, director of UGA’s Center for Drug Discovery, collaborated with scientists David Crich, Ralph Tripp, and Brian Cummings to explore inhibitors designed to “knock out PLpro and stop the replication of the virus”.

The Study

Throughout the study, the researchers from UGA began to test a series of compounds that were discovered twelve years ago that were shown to be effective against the SARS outbreak of 2002-03. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected more lives than the SARS outbreak of 2002-03, but at the time when this test was conducted, the researchers believed that the COVID-19 mortality rate was lower based on available numbers in early June. Pegan, along with the other two researchers responsible for this discovery, realized the similarities both SARS viruses possessed and formulated compounds that helped block the proteins of the coronavirus that are responsible for the genes to replicate. These compounds, known as naphthalene-based PLpro inhibitors, are shown to effectively halt SARS-CoV-2 PLpro ability to replicate and suppress host immune functions. “The kind of small molecules that we’re developing are some of the first that are specifically designed for this coronavirus protease……Our hope is that we can turn this into a starting point for creating a drug that we can get in front of the Food and Drug Administration”, Pegan states. UGA students also brought their expertises to the table, trying to compare both SARS diseases in order to find a possible Therapeutic that is affective against COVID-19.

Why is this Important?

As COVID-19 became the most prevalent topic of discussion in 2020, researchers and scientists still don’t know half of the characteristics that trigger the SARS-CoV-2 virus that make it so contagious and harmful. Pegan, along with his associates from UGA, have added to the efforts around the world in learning how to combat this world threatening epidemic. “Pegan’s lab used modeling techniques to locate the differences between PLpro in the 2003 outbreak and the current outbreak, revealing the comparative weakness of the SARS-CoV-2 PLpro and suggesting potential inhibitors for testing”. As many scientists and researchers are struggling to find ways to combat this disease, the discovery of a new compound that can halt the ability for the virus to spread provides hope to finding a cure for this deadly virus.

“Enveloped” viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, are surrounded by a phospholipid bilayer derived from the host cell as it leaves the cell. This phospholipid contains spike proteins, which is what the virus uses to bind with receptors throughout human cells. The receptor that the virus binds to are known as “Angiotensin converting enzyme 2” (ACE2). After the virus binds with a receptor, it enter the cell via endocytosis, and continues to transfer throughout the cell until it reaches the nucleus, where it’s able to alter the transcription of the RNA within the nucleus and cause more of the virus to duplicate. Vaccines and some therapeutics bind with these spike proteins located around the phospholipid bilayer in order to prevent the proteins from binding to any human cell receptors. 

With the infection and death rate rising each day, along with new discoveries about how this virus functions, it is apparent that scientists and researchers are working as fast as they can to find new therapeutics and vaccines in order to stop the spread of this virus. I believe we all need to put fourth an effort in stopping the spread of this worldwide pandemic, as Scott Pegan did with his courageous findings of a possible new therapeutic, because if we don’t act soon, it will be too late. What do you think? Leave a comment below!

“Covid Winter” is Coming: The Power of Humidity in our Return to Normal

As “Covid Winter” approaches, especially in states with seasonal changes such as New York, it calls into question what this will mean for the virus in the coming months. When thinking about when the pandemic will end, temperature, humidity, and seasonal shifts are large factors which work against stopping the spread of the virus. Externally, as the air outside becomes colder, it is able to hold less water vapor, which decreases humidity. HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) units inside office buildings work by taking in outside air and heating it to channel through the indoor space, which similarly dries the air out. 

Why is humidity important in preventing the spread of the virus on a biological level? In an aerosol study conducted at Virginia Tech, the researches demonstrated that as humidity levels decrease, the particles of moisture released from actions such as talking, coughing, sneezing become smaller. This becomes a problem because the dry air causes the water in the molecules to evaporate faster, therefore becoming even smaller and staying in the surrounding air for a longer period of time. Any droplets can then travel around the closed, indoor space further. Their minuscule size allows them to be inhaled and move deeper into the lungs, where, as we learned in the video we watched in class, a spike on the virus will insert into a receptor molecule on a healthy cell membrane, allowing it to infect the healthy lung cell, leading to a susceptible person contracting COVID-19 and being able the virus further.

Other coronaviruses, like the common cold, influenza, and rhinoviruses, have exhibited similar spreading patterns dictated by the seasons, demonstrated by flu season occurring in the winter, calming down in summer, and coming back again in fall. Scientists believe COVID-19 could do the same, and are currently conducting research and gathering data to see the correlation between the virus and humidity levels. Stephanie Taylor, a physician and fellow at Har-

An example of how the virus remains in the air after released through talking, singing, etc

vard Medical School, is part of a joint study with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that “found that the most powerful correlation between national numbers of daily new coronavirus cases and daily Covid-19 deaths was indoor relative humidity.” In reflecting upon their findings, she says that humidity “is so powerful, it’s crazy.” 

The only way to know exactly how the coming winter months will affect the spread of the virus is through time and observation, but it is interesting to look at the biological processes and movement of particles in relation to humidity to understand how the virus may have an increased spread as it becomes colder. I also feel this background helps us be able to make intelligent, informed decisions about the risk of social gatherings as it becomes harder to stay outdoors and the weather changes. What do you think is lying ahead in “Covid Winter?” Do you think we will inevitably have to wait until the humidity changes in spring to declare an official end to the pandemic? 

 

What is Nanotechnology, and How is it Transforming Vaccine Development for SARS-CoV-2?

1,000+ Free Covid-19 & Coronavirus Illustrations - PixabayCOVID-19 Spike Protein

In an era of mask-wearing and social distancing, the big question on everyone’s mind is when will things go back to normal? Scientists all over the world have been working quickly and intensely to develop a solution–one that is safe. 

Nanotechnology is the process of manipulating atoms and molecules on a microscopic scale. According to a UC San Diego ScienceDaily Article, scientists have been using this technique to design vaccine candidates for COVID-19. Nicole Steinmetz, a nanoengineering professor at UC San Diego, has been one such scientist. Instead of relying on older vaccine models, such as live-attenuated or inactivated strains of the virus itself, these “next-generation vaccines” are more stable, easier to manufacture, and easier to administer. 

Since June 1 of 2020, there have been more than one-hundred vaccines in play, with more than a few triumphing through clinical trials. Although many may be years away from deployment, the act of their development will prepare our nations’ leaders for future pandemics. 

There are three forms of these novel vaccines in the mix: peptide-based, nucleic-acid based, and subunit vaccines. All of these are alternatives to classic vaccines, which are slower to produce and sometimes pose the threat of inducing allergic responses.

scientist, microbiologist, virus, molecular biology, laboratory, coronavirus testing, COVID-19Vaccine Development

Peptide-Based Vaccines

Peptides are short chains made up of amino acid monomers. Simple and easily manufactured, peptide-based vaccines are typically made from VPLs, or virus-like particles, which come from bacteriophages or plant viruses. They are composed of peptide antigens, and mimic the patterns of pathogens, making those patterns visible to the immune system. However, they do not produce a strong enough immune response on their own, and thus must be accompanied by adjuvants.

Nucleic-acid Based Vaccines

In the midst of a fast-spreading pandemic, the world needs a vaccine that can be both developed and deployed rapidly. DNA and mRNA vaccines have this potential. DNA vaccines contain small, circular pieces of bacterial plasmids that are engineered to target the nucleus and produce parts of the virus’s proteins. They have a lot of stability, however, they also pose the risk of messing up a person’s pre-existing DNA, leading to mutations. In contrast, mRNA-based vaccines release mRNA into the cytoplasm, which the host cell then translates into a full-length protein of the virus. Because it is non-integrating, it does not have the same mutation risks as DNA-based vaccines.  

Subunit Vaccines 

Subunit vaccines have minimal structural parts of the pathogenic virus, meaning either the virus’s proteins or VLPs. These vaccines do not have genetic material, and instead, mimic the topical features of the virus to induce an immune response. 

The Power of Masks

Delivery Development

One of the most important aspects of a vaccine is accessibility and deployment. In the past, when dealing with live or inactivated vaccines, the lack of healthcare workers to administer the vaccines emerged as a significant concern. Yet, through nanotechnology, researchers have developed devices and platforms to ease these previous issues. They have created single-dose, slow-release implants and patches that can be self-administered, removing pressure from health care workers. Open reporting and the mass culmination of data has allowed for this rapid development of vaccine technologies. Because of these revolutionary advancements, some researchers optimistically predict that COVID-19 has the potential to become merely another seasonal flu-like disease over time.

What Lies Ahead

In these bleak times, it is promising to look at such amazing scientific developments. While a good portion of the general public feels skepticism towards the speed at which these COVID-19 vaccines are being produced, and thus claim they will not take it, I believe that the work of these scientists will not go to waste. As a nation, and as a global community, we will get past it, and come out stronger than ever on the other side. 

Now, ask yourself, would you take a COVID-19 vaccine? 

ARE WE DOOMED? Maybe not

     Well, this year has been a ride. Starting off with a potential WWIII, continuing with the tragic loss of hall of fame athlete Kobe Bryant, 2020 has been one roller coaster of a year. But the most bizarre of it all was the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic swept the nation way back in March and it still has its grasp on us today. At the time it started, there was very little information on this virus. But now, due to our vast intricate technologies, we were able to find out lots of information on this virus. But, specifically, I want to talk about life after contracting the virus. See, normally when you have a virus and successfully heal from it, you develop antibodies so you will not get this type of virus again. The case is a bit different for COVID-19, or it might be the same. Read to find out!

     This topic is very interesting because there have been more than 10 million people who have acquired the virus. The people that have successfully recovered from the virus want to know the main question: Will I be able to get this virus again? The answer isn’t so simple. Early on the data provided to us gave us hope that the immunity to this virus was possible, but numerous cases also suggest that this immunity to the virus is brief (on a larger scale). Nothing is definite as of now, there is more research to be done, but for now we remain hopeful. 

 

So why do we say the immunity to the virus is brief?

     We know there is hope because there is proof that people who have contracted COVID-19 produce antibodies that protect our immune system, but this production of antibodies lasts maybe 3 to 4 months based on the data provided. The length of time still remains unclear. 

 

So how does this actually work?

     Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital tested three types of antibodies in blood samples: immunoglobulin G (IgG), immunoglobulin A (IgA), and immunoglobulin B (IgB). Immunoglobulin is a large Y-shaped protein used in the immune system to detect foreign invaders in the blood such as viruses. These proteins bind to these foreign invaders in order to fight them off. We learned from our unit with proteins that antibodies are a form of proteins that can influence the life of a molecule/virus. The most important of all the immunoglobulins stated above is IgG. The reason is because IgG has the potential to sustain immunity in the body. This is because when all three of these antibodies were found in the blood after being infected by COVID-19, IgA and IgB were obliterated by the spike protein found in COVID-19. But, IgG lasted in the stream for up to four months! Now, the researchers could not test IgG for that long, but the four months that they could observe showed that these IgG antibodies do persist to beat the virus! A more long term study is definitely needed. This study is also confirmed by another research group from the University of Toronto. This group also showed how IgA and IgB levels dropped rapidly about 12 days after infection while IgG levels remained steady. 

 

So can you get COVID more than once?

     Although it is very rare, there have been some cases where people contracted the virus more than once. But, there is no evidence that suggests that immunity is or is not possible. All in all, evidence shows that immunity after acquiring the virus is generally protective and the persistence of the IgG antibody provides hope for immunity to the virus. – Ghohesion

Is This a Possible Explanation for COVID-19’s Rapid Transmission?

In a study done by Rommie Amaro and colleagues at the University of California San Diego, Maynooth University (Ireland), and the University of Texas at Austin, it has been discovered that certain Glycans, or a sugar molecule chain bound to the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins, could be a real reason that SARS-CoV-2 can easily enter our bodies. 

In order for a human– or a host cell– to be infected with COVID-19, the actual virus (SARS-CoV-2) must infiltrate the host cells. As SARS-CoV-2 is covered in spike proteins, these proteins dock up with a host cell receptor called ACE2, which is embedded in the cellular membrane. In order for the virus to successfully dock with the receptor, it must change its shape in order to expose the Receptor Binding Domain (RBD), or exactly where the spike protein docks with ACE2.

At the specific spike protein/ACE2 docking points, the spike proteins are covered in Glycans, or sugar molecules. These glycans have the ability to protect the virus from the host cell’s immune system. Relating the importance of the glycans and the immune system to our class, we have heavily researched the roles of sugars in molecular processes and pathways and the functions of the immune system. With this knowledge, we are able to see, recognize, and understand how powerful and prevalent the glycan is in guarding the virus against our usually strong, organized immune system attacks. As the scientists in the study processed the information about the glycans, they were intrigued to discover how it could possibly lead to easier rates of infection.

To begin, they used dynamic computer models to simulate the glycan-covered spike proteins docked to the ACE2 in the cell membrane. They were able to deduct that the glycans help optimize the spike protein’s effort to expose its RBD. Thus, the glycans actively allowed easier infection through an easier docking experience. However, they also uncovered that the glycans only bound to certain spike proteins, meaning that the immune system, but specifically antibodies, could attack the virus at these docking points. Posing as an extremely positive discovery, the absence of glycans in certain docking points inspired the team to see if they could get rid of the glycans in total. Through Biolayer Interferometry, or technology that allows you to record biomolecular interactions, they were able to successfully mutate the spike protein so it didn’t have glycans anymore– thus, reducing SARS-CoV-2’s ability to bind to ACE2. 

The concept of removing the glycans from the spike proteins has been a major point of research in vaccine production. Although vaccines being made by Pfizer and Moderna are revolved around MRNA, ideas like debilitating the virus-protecting glycans are extremely revolutionary and could lead to possible amazing breakthroughs in the future.

Protecting Ourselves Against COVID-19

How does COVID-19 spread?

According to this article by the CDC, there are two main ways the coronavirus spreads:

  • The inhalation/exchange of respiratory emissions from:
    • Coughing/Sneezing
    • Talking/Singing
    • Breathing
  • Touching a surface with the virus on it and (without washing hands) touching:
    • Eyes
    • Nose
    • Mouth

 

Preventing the spread of COVID-19

An article (source article) from Harvard Medical School explains everything you need to know about preventing the spread of the virus. Below is a summary of how to contribute to the prevention of the spread of the virus.

 

Protecting yourself and others:

In order to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus, you should avoid those who are infected and others if you are infected, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and disinfect objects that are frequently touched daily. You should also minimize travel and time spent in crowds/close quarters.

 

Washing your hands:

Whenever your hands are dirty (ex: after using the bathroom) or are going to be near your face (ex: before eating a meal), wash them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you are unable to wash your hands during these times, sanitize with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. A guide for washing hands, created by the CDC, explains how to properly wash your hands in five simple steps:

  1. Run your hands under clean water until sufficiently wet, then acquire soap
  2. Rub the soap around the whole surface of your hand, between every finger, underneath every nail, etc.
  3. Keep doing this for at least 20 seconds
  4. Rinse off all the soap under clean water
  5. Dry your hands on a clean drying surface or let them air dry

 

Social Distancing:

Social distancing is when in social settings, people maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between each person. This is crucial for at least slowing down the rate of infected people, providing hospitals more time and resources to take care of infected people without being overwhelmed by a large number of patients. It’s important to note that just social distancing is not enough to prevent the spread of the virus, as respiratory emissions may linger and travel more than 6 feet when airborne. Make sure to also wear a mask and avoid the indoors and areas without air circulation while with other people.

 

Essential resources:

When grocery shopping, make sure to buy a lot of nonperishable goods to keep in case of an emergency. Make sure to wear a mask when going out, as masks prevent the spread of respiratory emissions and help prevent hands from touching faces. Wipe down surfaces such as carts and baskets before using and make sure to wash your hands after using. If you’re part of an increased risk group, try to avoid going out as much as possible.

 

Minimally useful measures:

Some individuals decide to take extra precautionary measures, but they are unnecessary for the most part. Some of these include wearing gloves and quarantining mail. In situations like these, just make sure to wash your hands after handling potentially infected objects, other measures do not help significantly.

 

Masks:

Wear a mask! The most common way the virus spreads is, as stated before, through respiratory emissions. Wearing a mask prevents these emissions from traveling throughout the environment. Even asymptomatic people may carry/spread the virus, so it is important to wear a mask no matter what. Masks should fit tightly and be worn properly, completely covering the mouth and nose. Masks are not supposed to be an alternative to the other methods of prevention but should be used in addition to the other methods.

 

Infants/Toddlers:

There is an alarming amount of young children put at risk from improper/a lack of safety measures. This article from kidshealth.org explains how to properly protect children under the age of 2 from COVID-19. First of all, babies should not wear masks. This is because since their airways are extremely small, they will have a hard time breathing and may suffocate in a mask. They may also touch their face more frequently in attempts to remove the mask, increasing their risk of infection. Since they can’t wear masks, it is important to avoid going out in public with them if possible. If unavoidable, make sure to wash or sanitize your hands before handling them and put them in a stroller with a covering.

 

An analogy based on cells and membranes:

A simple way to think about it is as if the human body were a cell. The skin is like a cell membrane and the eyes, nose, and mouth are like channels in the membrane. Wearing a mask is like closing the channels in order to keep substances out. Being in a large group of people is similar to a cell in a hypotonic solution, making it more likely for the virus to “diffuse” into your body. Socially distancing is slightly similar to a cell in a hypertonic solution, for this makes it less likely for the virus to flow into the body. To sum up, just make sure to make smart decisions, wash your hands, maintain social distancing, and wear a mask. Following these guidelines will help us protect each other until the virus is no more.

Equation About Aliens Helps Prove Masks and Social Distancing Are Necessary

Wait, do we really have to wear masks? Short answer: yes. Long answer: Absolutely yes.

It’s the debate that’s been going on since Covid-19 first reached the United States. Are masks and social distancing really necessary? Some people seem to think that it’s not, which is honestly ridiculous. There is so much proof that it is necessary, so I’m going to show it to anyone who doubts it.

According to the American Institute of Physics, the Contagion Airborne Transmission (CAT) inequality model can show how, based on how the virus spreads, masks and social distancing are effective. 

The article starts with researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Mississippi employing basic concepts of fluid dynamics and factors in airborne transmission to propose the CAT inequality model. Not all factors are known, including environment variables and amount of particles needed to trigger an infection. However, it can still be used to assess relative risks. 

Airborne transmitted diseases, like influenza, can spread through the air on dust, fibers, and other microscopic particles. They can also be spread through expiratory droplets. Influenza can also be spread through secondary objects, or fomites, such as door handles or tissues. Little is known about which route is most important, though airborne transmission is harder to protect against.

When a virus like Covid-19 enters the body, the body fights off the virus. It is first fought off with innate immunity, a defense that activates immediately upon infection. It’s nonspecific and rapid. If that proves to be unsuccessful, then adaptive immunity (aka acquired immunity) develops after exposure. It is very specific, though slower. The B-cells of the immune system bind and neutralize the pathogen, while T-cells eliminate any infected cells. There are also B and T memory cells that help recognize the pathogen if a host ever gets reinfected, speeding up the immune response. However, the Covid-19 virus is new. People getting infected do not have these memory cells and the immune system needs more time to react and defend themselves. Time that the virus takes to wreak havoc on the host’s body.

These researchers are able to determine the precautions necessary to prevent transmission. According to their research, increasing physical distance does increase protection. Author Rajat Mittal says doubling your distance generally doubles your protection. The scientists have also found masks to be protective. A simple cloth mask can provide significant protection and reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Physical activity that increases breathing rate and volume of people are still issues when it comes with transmission, which is why reopening schools, malls, and gyms have hard implications.

The CAT inequality model is inspired by the Drake equation in astrobiology. The Drake equation is a formula that gives us an idea about how many alien societies exist and are detectable. The equation estimates the number of transmitting societies in the Milky Way galaxy through a factorization.

Similar to the Drake equation, the model develops a factorization based on the idea that airborne transmission occurs when a person inhales a viral dose. It includes variables added at each of the three stages of airborne transmission, including breathing rates, number of virus-carrying droplets expelled, the environment, and exposure time. This model could also apply to airborne transmission of other respiratory infections like the flu, tuberculosis, and the measles.

Researchers are continuing to look closer at face mask efficiency and transmission details in high-density of outdoor spaces. However, the CAT inequality model shows that a person is less likely to inhale a viral dose if they wear a protective mask and keep their distance.

So we beat SARS and MERS… Why haven’t we beat COVID-19?

Many people, especially those who were alive during the SARS and MERS outbreak, may be wondering why we haven’t beat the Coronavirus yet if we beat the SARS and MERS outbreaks, two very similar viruses to COVID-19 or Sars-CoV2. This is a question many people have been facing everyday as the Coronavirus disease has caused a shift in the entire globe’s day to day life unlike SARS and MERS. 

SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 are all part of the coronavirus family. “Coronaviruses are a large family of enveloped RNA viruses” that can be found in a variety of bat and bird species. While this makes the three viruses similar, they all have specific differences causing unique results in terms of outbreaks and how the specific viruses have spread. What is so powerful or different about the coronavirus causing COVID? 

First of all, let’s talk about how viruses hijack our bodies. Viruses are microscopic parasites, much smaller than bacteria, that contain key elements that make up all living things such as nucleic acids and DNA or RNA, but are unable to replicate and access this information encoded in their nucleic acids, meaning they cannot self replicate. In order to reproduce, they rely on the genetic material of host cells (our own cells). As we talked about in class, viruses are able to bind to our cell surface receptors and trick our cells to “let them in”. The viruses are then able to hijack our cells by releasing their genomes, or that information they couldn’t previously access, resulting in our cell making millions of copies of that genome to spread throughout the body in order to infect other cells and / or other human hosts. This is how all three of the coronaviruses hijacked our bodies and communities. Let’s hear what happened once this step occured.

SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The SARS outbreak began in the Guangdong province in China in 2002. The coronavirus that caused SARS, called SARS-CoV, was likely spread to humans, in the China wet markets, from civets or other animals who acquired the virus from horseshoe bats. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global alert after identifying an atypical pneumonia spreading amongst hospital staff and later names the virus SARS based on the symptoms people began to express. The epidemic was controlled on July 5th 2003 and only four cases have been reported since, 3 of which being in a lab setting dealing with the specific coronavirus. The reason why SARS was able to be contained so quickly was due to the fact that one could only spread the virus if he/she had symptoms and if one expressed symptoms it was easy to self isolate, therefore not spreading the virus to others. In addition, SARS has a fatality rate of 9.6% meaning a good number of people who contracted SARS were likely to pass on and therefore not pass on the virus to others. 

MERS stands for Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome. As we learned in class, viruses are no longer named by their place of origin, but this was not the case in 2012 during the outbreak of MERS. Similar to SARS, MERS is a zoonotic virus, meaning MERS was passed from an animal, in this case a camel who contracted the virus from bat once again, to humans in Saudi Arabia. Although 27 countries have reported cases of MERS since 2012, transmission among people is rare and MERS has a fatality rate of 34.3%, making it even more deadly than SARS and therefore making it even harder to spread. 

The first case of COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 was reported in Wuhan China in December 2019. By the end of January 2020 the WHO had declared a public health emergency of international concern and by the beginning of February the WHO had declared a pandemic. So what makes the coronavirus disease so much worse than the other ones? How did COVID-19 spread so quickly and to the entire globe? And why are our daily lives changed forever or at least until we can get a handle on the virus?

First of all, the COVID-19 causing coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is very similar to SARS-CoV, but with very unique and important differences. What we have all learned about SARS-CoV-2 is that you don’t need to be experiencing symptoms to transmit the virus. This is very different from SARS-CoV where you needed to have symptoms in order to transmit the virus. Also, while the transmission rates are lower for MERS and SARS because the fatality rates are higher, in the case of COVID-19, the fatality rate is approximately 1-3%, meaning more people are surviving COVID-19 making it easier for this virus to survive and pass on to other people that it has yet to infect. In addition, as we talked about in class, we have evidence that “viruses can naturally mutate to mimic host biology so as to ensure successful viral propagation” and as a result “a host of high frequency mutations have resulted in a least 5 differentiated SARS-CoV-2 strains to date” making it even harder to develop a successful vaccine to target and eliminate the coronavirus disease.   

So, will we ever be able to put a stop to the spread of the coronavirus disease and therefore the pandemic? The answer is yes, but we first need to figure out how to stop the spread of the virus. The truth about COVID-19 is that unfortunately, as stated above, it is much easier to transmit than SARS and MERS, and COVID-19 has been able to get on planes and travel the world unlike the previous coronaviruses. While it is easier to transmit it is also more survivable than the other coronaviruses that have impacted our communities thus far.

How Reliable Are Covid-19 Tests and What Are The Different Types of Tests?

For my study of research, I’ve decided to learn more about Covid-19 testing and its effectiveness. In this article, How Accurate Are COVID-19 Tests? Many Factors Can Affect Sensitivity, Specificity of Test Results, it discusses several methods of testing, along with how accurate the results are. The article also goes into detail about what factors can affect the tests accuracy. 

Sensitive tests, which are positive results, are less likely to produce a false-positive outcome, and a specific test, negative results, are less likely to produce a false-negative outcome. Labs can provide the analytics of sensitivity and specificity for a test, which is concluded from confirmed specimens of positive and negative results. These results, however, come from when someone either had a great exposure, or none, so they are true under ideal conditions. Since there is so much variability between patients, the numbers are often lower when they are under real life conditions. 

There are two main types of testing for the novel Coronavirus. The first type of test detects RNA from the virus by using methods such as, polymerase chain reaction (PCR). I have never heard of this process before, so I decided to find a source explaining what it is. PCR is used to amplify, which is making many copies of a gene or DNA. Using this process, many copies can be created, just from a small part of the DNA taken for the sample. This process can help to identify a pathogen when trying to detect a virus, such as the novel Coronavirus. This past week in class, we learned about the immune system and about the characteristics of viruses. We learned that a virus has spike proteins on the outside, and it has RNA strands in the inside of the cell. This connects to what we learned about RNA and viruses, because this test actually tests for RNA to see if a patient has the virus. they are more accurate because they are from the genetic sequence from the virus itself, which is unique to it. If a test comes back positive, it is most likely accurate. The second type of test is molecular testing. The nasopharynx is said to have the largest concentration of a virus. Since using NP swab samples, nasopharyngeal swabs, are hard to get, the sensitivity of a test can be altered or tampered. This can create a false-negative result in a patient, who really could have it. Testing with saliva and blood has more of a likeliness to reduce the sensitivity. The article also mentions that swabbing the patient in the oropharynx or nose can also have a lower sensitivity. 

Antibody testing is through drawing blood from a vein, and it can detect whether or not someone was infected by Covid-19. The test uses enzyme immunoassays and rapid lateral flow immunoassays. By day 14 following symptoms appearing, most patients did have the IgG antibodies. I wasn’t exactly sure what an IgG antibody was, so I found a source to explain that in some more detail. It is an immunoglobulin and is found in all fluids within the body. They are the most common and small antibodies that are in the body. These antibodies help to fight bacterial infections and viruses. These antibodies are actually the only ones that can help protect a woman’s fetus, which is very interesting. As time goes on, it is less likely that the antibodies will be detected. There is some evidence, not confirmed yet, that suggests that children and asymptomatic or mild-symptom patients could be less likely to have detected antibodies. 

I found this article to be very fascinating because it went into detail about each test and its effectiveness. I didn’t know that children and asymptomatic or mild-symptom patients were less likely to have detectable antibodies. I am excited to research more as I continue to further my studies in Covid-19 testing. 

 

Intermediate Host of COVID-19 Found to be Pangolins

COVID-19 had intermediate animal hosts before beginning to infect humans. It is not uncommon for viruses and illnesses to have animal hosts that have the ability to transmit it to other organisms, one such example being mosquitoes and various illnesses such as malaria and the West Nile virus. It has been proven that bats are carrier of SARS-CoV-2, but scientists have been trying to discover how exactly it got from bats to humans. This knowledge matters because understanding where the virus originated and how it came to infect humans could prove crucial to future treatment and control.

It was originally suggested that snakes were the intermediate host due to a genome study; however, it had a lot of scientific criticism for a few reasons, one such being the fact that the coronavirus has only been known to infect mammals and birds. Meanwhile, another unrelated study comparing the spike proteins to that of HIV-1, discovered a few unexpected similarities. Due to the rise of conspiracy theories and rumors, a scientist by the name of Yang Zhang, along with some colleagues, decided to conduct a more in-depth study on SARS-CoV-2 sequences.

Yang Zhang and his colleagues uncovered the error in the analysis that claimed snakes were the intermediate host. Additionally, they analyzed and compared DNA and protein sequences from pangolin tissues in order to try to find those similar to SARS-CoV-2. They were able to identify protein sequences that were 91% identical to those found in the human virus’ proteins. The spike protein found in pangolins only had 5 differences in the amino acids as compared to the 19 differences in the bat viral proteins which is further evidence that pangolins are the intermediate host. However, researchers say that it is possible for other intermediate hosts to exist.

A pangolin, now suspected to be an intermediate host of the coronavirus

So how does an illness transfer from animals to humans? One belief is that rapid mutation is the main factor that allows viruses to adapt to overcome a new hosts barriers and immunological defenses. Another proposed theory is host similarity as explained by Gary McCracken, a professor at the University of Tennessee. They tested this theory by analyzing hundreds of rabies viruses in various species of bats. They found that the more genetically similar species of bats had these cross-species viruses.

As more tests have been conducted, it has been found that some animals, other than bats and pangolins, are also able to be infected with the coronavirus. João Rodriguez from Stanford University and some colleagues used computers to simulate and investigate how the spike protein interacts with different animal cells ACE2 receptors. The better the viral “key” fit into the receptor “lock”, the more susceptible that species was to SARS-CoV-2. Therefore, by applying this knowledge (as well as McCracken’s theory) to other situations, it would make sense that humans could be infected by a cross-species virus, particularly from other mammals.

This connects to what we learned in class about receptors and cell signaling. ACE2 receptors are found on cells throughout the body, most notably in this case, in the lungs. ACE2 receptors help regulate blood pressure, wound healing, and inflammation. Once a message (a signaling molecule or such) is received by the receptor, cell signaling moves into the next stage of transduction which ultimately produces a response. Therefore when something (in this case COVID-19) interferes, the proper signaling becomes changed or altered leading to the symptoms we have come to recognize as COVID-19.

Is Your Cellphone Trying to Kill You?

The cellphone that you use everyday, whether it is for work or your enjoyment, can harm you without you even knowing. Cellphones give off a certain type of energy called radio-frequency waves that can increase your risk of brain tumors or other tumors in the head or neck area. Cell phones are given the ability to function because of cell towers. Cell phones send and receive signals from surrounding cell towers by using radio-frequency waves. Radio-frequency waves, however, are a form of non-ionizing radiation, which means they do not have enough energy to cause cancer directly damaging the DNA inside a cell. This relates to our biology class, as we are talking about how cells work inside the body. Although radio-frequency waves do not have enough energy to break through a cell to cause damage, if they did, they would have to pass through the plasma membrane, and then reach the nucleus in order to damage DNA.

The radio-frequency waves come from the cell phone’s antenna, located in the body of a hand-held phone. The waves are strongest at the antenna and lose energy quickly as they travel away from the phone. The phone is often held against the head when a person is on a call. The closer the antenna is to someone, the greater their expected exposure to radio-frequency waves. The body tissues closest to the phone absorb more energy from the waves than tissues farther away, giving you a higher risk of a form of brain cancer than something else. The amount of energy absorbed by someone from the radio-frequency waves can be influenced by a number of things, such as the model of phone you use, or the amount of time you use your phone. However, in studies shown in the first embedded link, there has been no clear answer of the correlation between cellphones and cancer. Overall, I feel that if there was a significant finding in these studies, there would be a huge spike of cases of brain tumors or brain cancers. I believe this is not something we should be worried about, and if it were to be a problem, I feel that there would have been a solution created already.

E. coli is Beneficial to Plants?

An enzyme is a biological catalyst and is almost always a protein. It speeds up the rate of a specific chemical reaction in the cell. The enzyme is not destroyed during the reaction and is used over and over. A cell contains thousands of different types of enzyme molecules, each specific to a particular chemical reaction. Studies of scientists in the past focused on improving the photosynthesis of plants using the Rubisco, an enzyme that attracts carbon from carbon dioxide to create sucrose. However, Rubisco occasionally catalyzes a reaction with oxygen and CO2 from the air. By doing so, it creates a toxic byproduct and wastes energy, therefore making photosynthesis inefficient/unsafe.

“You would like Rubisco to not interact with oxygen and to also work faster,” said Maureen Hanson, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Molecular Biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Scientists at Cornell, Maureen Hanson and Myat Lin, wanted to solve this problem. the conclusion they reached was to utilize E.coli. In order to do this, the researchers took Rubisco from tobacco plants and engineered it into E. coli. Their objective was to make mutations to try to improve the enzyme and then test it in E. coli in a quick and efficient way.

File:E. coli Bacteria (16578744517).jpg

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip.

The fact that bacteria reproduces at a quick rate is an important in their experiments. The researchers were abler to test an altered Rubisco in E. coli and get results the next day. This is a huge improvement compared to normal Rubisco, which normally takes a few months for noticeable results.

The work by another group that engineered tobacco Rubisco into E. coli led to very weak expression of the enzyme. In plants, Rubisco is composed of eight large and eight small subunits. A single gene encodes each large subunit, but many genes encode each small subunit. The complex process of enzyme assembly and the presence of multiple versions of the enzyme in plants has made it very hard to experiment with Rubisco. By doing this, they attained expression of the enzyme in E. coli that matched what was found in plants.

With this newfound ability to develop new mutations of Rubisco in E.coli, researchers can pick out the improved mutations and distribute them to a crop plant which could help improve the economy immensely. The Rubisco in E.coli will help the photosynthesis of the plants, allowing them to produce more glucose as well as oxygen gas.  This will lead to an increase in cell respiration. The chemical energy released by respiration can be used by the plant for cellular activities such as protein synthesis or cell division. The plant will ultimately grow to be bigger, healthier, and in the crops case, more tasty.

Blue Whales: The Giants of the Real World

For the past twenty years, Jeremy Goldbogen and collaborators have been trying to figure out why blue whales were the biggest animal to ever live. The journey helped them find multiple different explanations as to why the blue whale is so unique and why it’s size is almost entirely based on two factors: their choice of prey and the coincidence of their evolution with the global increase of “upwelling of nutrient-rich water from the depths of the ocean.”

How does a Blue Whale’s diet affect its size?

Baleen Whales were able to evolve from filter-feeding on plankton to successfully lung-feeding on entire schools of fish and krill. This was a huge part of the whale’s evolution because of the ocean upwelling, which provided ample amounts of new prey for these whales.

What is specialization and how did it affect the evolution of Whales, particularly Blue Whales? 

During the ocean upwelling, not all types of swarming prey were the same. As a result, predators began to become a specialist in hunting certain groups. For example, some rorquals specialized in schooling fish, while others focused on plankton. Of all the present-day rorquals, the blue whale is the most specialized. They only eat Krill with very few exceptions. Specializing in Krill is far from easy. There is only a high concentration of Krill in certain regions of the world, therefore Blue Whales need to be extremely mobile. Because of this, they have sleek bodies and hydrodynamic flippers. Krill are also not easy to catch so Blue Whales sacrifice some mobility for a more hunting range. This means a bigger mouth which comes with a bigger body. The whale’s diet depends on being big but the energy needed to maintain this big body also balances out.

The Blue Whale: Stuck between the Old and the New

The Blue Whale is in an interesting predicament when it comes to their evolution and growth. They are stuck in their circle of specialization but their food web is deteriorating across the ocean and that is where they are also stuck. As I said before, being that big takes a lot of energy. These whales needed to eat as much as possible and when we pollute the ocean that hinders their ability to do so. I believe that it is extremely important for us to do what we can as humans in order to help these creatures because right now we are living during a truly unique time: we are on the earth at the same time as giants. I believe that it is our responsibility to save them for as long as we can.

 

 

 

Allergic to Water? Insight into Aquagenic Urticaria the allergy to water.

Your favorite Biology blogger, Monoseanaride, is here to educate biology lovers all across the globe on Aquagenic Urticaria, also known as, the allergy to water. This is a special that you do not want to miss out on.

 Background-

Aquagenic Urticaria (AU) is an extremely rare disease that causes an allergic reaction when coming into contact with water. This allergic reaction includes urticaria forming on the area where the water came into contact with the skin. This disease is mostly found in women, and the symptoms usually begin at the onset of puberty.

 

 

History-

Aquagenic Urticaria (AU) was first discovered by Shelley and Ramsey back in 1964 when they reported three cases. One case was a 19-year-old boy who had reported multiple episodes of urticaria. The second case was a four-year-old boy who suffered from the same symptoms as the 19-year-old man. Both patients suffered from pinhead-sized wheals around their bodies. Neither patient had any reaction from ingesting water, after multiple experiments, it was concluded that this reaction was caused by the water touching the surface of the skin. There was no case report on the third initial case discovered. Since these initial findings, fewer than 100 cases have been reported since.

Symptoms and Treatment-

The symptoms of AU include an itchy and painful rash after coming into contact with water. The rash is most commonly found on the neck, arms, and chest. The rash can form within minutes of coming into contact with water. Symptoms begin to fade after drying off in 30-60 minutes. In extreme cases symptoms can ensue on the digestion of water, these symptoms could include: wheezing, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, and a rash around the mouth. There is no official cure for AU. In the original diagnosis of AU doses of Fexofenadine were prescribed to help alleviate symptoms. Now antihistamines are given to help reverse the allergy-induced effects of AU.

Cause- 

This reaction is caused by the release of a chemical called histamine the chemical responsible for fighting off the symptoms of an allergic reaction. There is no evidence as to where this disease originated, but there are two theories. Some scientists believe that a substance dissolved in water enters the skin and causes the hives. This theory the scientists believe that it is an allergen in the water, rather than water itself causing the hives. The second theory posits that interaction between water and a substance found in, or on our skin creates a toxic material, which leads to the hives. It is unsure whether or not the disease can be inherited. In most cases AU is appeared sporadically, although there have been familial cases discovered, such as this one family who was passed through three generations.

Why Water is necessary for human life-

The human body is made up of about 60%, the brain and heart are made up of about 73% water, the lungs are made up of about 83% water, the skins and muscles are made of 64% water, and the bones are made up of about 31% water. Water is essential for animals and plants for reasons more than to quench thirst, or to shower, but rather because it is known as the universal solvent. Water is notorious for its capabilities to dissolve many different molecules. That’s not all though, water is used for many things such as aiding cell transport, cellular structure, and even is part of multiple chemical reactions such as photosynthesis in plants, and dehydration synthesis, a chemical reaction that helps connect monomers to make polymers, in animals. Water helps the folding of amino acids inside the cell. Water is also seen going through the cell membrane in a process called Osmosis, a process that spreads water to areas of high concentration and obtains equilibrium. 

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