BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: biology (Page 1 of 5)

A Friendzyme of the Environment

A team of researchers at the University of Portsmouth in England have engineered an enzyme that breaks down plastic six times faster than the previous most efficient plastic destroying enzyme. This enzyme specializes in breaking down PET, polyethylene terephthalate, the material most plastic bottles are made of. They created this by reengineering the previous enzyme, PETase, and combining it with another enzyme, MHETase, to create a ‘super enzyme’. They used a method normally utilized by companies in the biofuel industry, who combine enzymes to break down types of cellulase. Granted, it is still far too slow to be effective in breaking down the vast amounts of plastic waste we are faced with, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Enzymes are made of proteins which are made up of amino acids. Amino acids consist of a carboxyl group, an amino group, and a unique R group. Amino acids create chains in which carboxyl group match with amino groups, linking together using covalent peptide bonds, formed after dehydration synthesis. The chains of amino acids begin to fold and create proteins, which are the basis of almost all enzymes.

I think this issue is an important endeavor that should be funded by governments all around the world. We all share the Earth, and it is currently under threat by a number of issues, a prime example being pollution. Up to 8.8 million metric tons of plastic waste may enter the oceans every year. Some studies put the amount of seabirds that contain some form of plastic waste in their system at upwards of 90%. Plastic waste needs solutions before it makes the oceans uninhabitable for more creatures, and a mass produced enzyme may be a valid solution. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a large convergence of currents in the Pacific Ocean that has collected so much garbage, a large portion of which is made of plastic, that it is comparable to the size of Texas. Developing an effective enzyme that could quickly break down plastic could become a serious help to minimizing the environmental impact of the Garbage Patch.

While we cannot develop enzymes ourselves, several tips for mitigating our plastic waste are:

-Try to use aluminum cans instead of plastic bottles.

-Always recycle or reuse plastic bottles.

-Cut the holes of six pack rings before disposing so animals cannot be caught in them.

-Use metal and paper straws as a substitute for plastic straws.

 

File:PETase active site.png - Wikimedia Commons

^ The enzyme PETase 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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!

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.

 

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 Problems with Ancestry Tests (23andMe, Ancestry.com, etc.)

Over the past five years or so, ancestry and DNA tests have risen in popularity due to people’s desire to find out what medical conditions they are at risk for, or where their ancestors are from.  The most common concern I have heard about as a result of these tests was that the companies would sell your DNA to third parties or the government (while there is a chance this could be true this will not be the focus of this article).  However, the true problems are not conspiracy driven, yet they are scientifically driven and verifiably true.

Many people using these tests do not realize how these tests actually work and the wrong information they present at times.  The first issue resides in the health screenings of these ancestry tests.  They claim to use your ancestry to see if you are at risk for Alzheimers, certain types of cancer, Parkinson’s, or what type of body type you have.  These companies are not completely lying, however the tests can omit certain things and it is no substitute for going to an actual doctor.

Everything they search for is compared to a reference population, therefore your genes are merely compared to other people who are considered healthy or unhealthy.  These tests do not have access to medical history in order to look for other clinical factors that could accelerate or further exacerbate this potential condition, thus explaining why it is irresponsible to tell people they are at risk for a debilitating disease because someone with similar genetics reported developing a disease that could have resulted from his or her specific lifestyle.

The issue with self-reporting in ancestry tests also can be seen in testing for heritage.  The data these companies use are based off of reference populations (many of which are self-reported especially in the early years of the tests), therefore the same person can receive different results at different times.  The database is constantly changing (which isn’t necessarily only a bad thing) so if the same person takes the test three times in three different years, they are likely to get different results.  If the company recently expands to selling DNA kits in a new area of the world, a person with mixed heritage from the United States can receive different results because the test population of a certain region was extremely small and unspecific before, whereas now they have more of a test population that can change “how Vietnamese you are” (or whatever region that applies to you).

Have you ever known someone who took the DNA test and found out they were not as Greek or Russian (insert anything) as they thought they were? These results are problematic on so many levels when breaking down ancestry.  The first example is that when comparing extremely similar populations, your heritage might not reflect your ancestry that the test finds.  For example: modern English, Scottish, and Irish people have vastly similar results in these tests because they are very similar genetically and geographically, therefore a person can find out they are 50/50 Irish and English, however all of their known relatives can be traced back to 1870s Ireland.  The person is not “less Irish than they thought”; it merely means that centuries of migration and conquering in the region of the British Isles could blend the gene pools even if this person’s family tree of the last two-hundred years can be traced back to one specific town.

Something else important to consider is that ancestry and heritage are not nearly synonymous terms.  Furthermore, two twins could receive different genes from the same parents which could lead to slight changes in genetic makeup.  Your sibling is not “more Swedish than you” in terms of heritage and the culture you were raised in.  The sibling might receive a certain gene from your parents that you did not.

While there are a myriad of problems and hypotheticals to bring up, I will leave you with one last problem. Groups of people that live in diaspora such as Jews, Romani, and Armenians could have problems with these tests.  Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe live in diaspora and have been a migratory group for centuries, leading them to mix in with various gene pools that they settle in.  When an Ashkenazi Jew or Romani (who similarly lived a migratory history) takes an ancestry test, they could feel completely related to their Ashkenazi or Romani heritage, however the intermixing of people over centuries (because they settled in so many places) could come up in the test even though they feel like they have no relationship to the heritage at all.  Romani people also are difficult to pinpoint to one specific region of origin which demonstrates another potential problem with the tests.

While these tests can be a fun activity to do with your friends, make sure you take the results with a grain of salt because you are not necessarily  “less French than you thought”.

 

Meeting Your Great Great Great… Grandchildren

The MDI Biological Lab along with the Buck Institute of Research on Aging have discovered cell pathways that could increase the human lifespan by 400-500%. “The increase in lifespan would be the equivalent of a human living for 400 or 500 years.” The implications this would have are immense along with some potential drawbacks, but let’s get into the science first.

The research was conducted on C. elegans, a nematode, because “it shares many of its genes with humans and because its short lifespan of only three to four weeks.” The short lifespan allows scientists to quickly see the effects of their efforts to extend the healthy lifespan. The keyword here is “healthy” because prolonging life means nothing unless you can extend the quality as well. The scientists used a double mutant in the insulin signaling and TOR pathways. The alteration in the insulin pathway yields a 100% increase in lifespan and the TOR pathway yields a 30% increase. The incredible discovery though was that when combined the new lifespan was amplified by 500%!! The expected yield was 130%.

Image result for double mutant "

Here depicted is a diagram showing the meaning of a double mutant.

Researchers still say “the discovery in C. elegans of cellular pathways that govern aging, it hasn’t been clear how these pathways interact.” This discovery does lead to the mindset that the important methods of anti-aging are in the interactions between cellular pathways rather than singular pathways. This newly found interaction could also explain why scientists have had trouble discovering “the gene” the governs aging. The combinations of these treatments are described as being similar to the “way that combination therapies are used to treat cancer and HIV.”

It’s odd to picture a world where this treatment could be considered “cosmetic” in a way. Eventually, the human lifespan could expand to hundreds of years with some even living to 1000. The implications that this could have are a current problem we have of overpopulation. It is farfetched, but this would help immensely with the mission to expand into space. The ability to survive with hundreds of years on a potential “colony ship” allows humans to expand to other planets where we would be able to expand greatly. I’ll end with a question: If this treatment was 100% safe and affordable, would you get it? Why or why not?

CAP v.s. HAP: Pneumonia in the Microbiome

While many may not know this, there are various types of pneumonia.  The most common variant, CAP (community-acquired pneumonia), is the most prevalent strain of the infectious disease.  As the name may suggest, CAP is acquired through daily interactions (whether that may be contact or inhalation of pathogens which could later travel to the lungs) with any surface that has bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae.

While pneumonia is a well-known infectious disease among the population in 2019 due to the plethora of literature and research done on it, most people do not know that other variants of pneumonia are contracted in different ways, through different strands of bacteria.  HAP (hospital-acquired pneumonia or healthcare-associated pneumonia) can be contracted from extended periods of time in a hospital, nursing home, or rehabilitation center.  This pneumonia variant is a result of the P. aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which are completely different from the bacteria that cause CAP.

The demographics of people who suffer from each of these variants appear to be mostly similar with the only difference being that CAP has a stronger association with COPD whereas HAP still has an association with COPD, but in a smaller portion of the demographic.  Similarities between the two are the increased risk if one uses tobacco products or suffers from COPD, however, aside from these shared risk factors, the two variants are different in treatment methods (effectiveness of certain antibiotics) and contraction.

Relative to the microbiome, the major differences in the diseases can be found when testing biomarkers.  According to Ann Transl and Thomas Tschernig of the “Annals of Translational Medicine”, “lower levels in HAP as compared to CAP were found for MMP-8 and soluble E-selection, higher levels in HAP as compared to CAP were found for protein C”.

The significance of this discovery lies in the fact that the different variants of pneumonia could not be prevented, diagnosed, or treated in the same ways, thus exemplifying the dangers that would arise if the different variants were not classified and identified.

Additional resources.

 

 

Discovering and Using Your Personal, Biological, Tiny Army

Bacteria is an important part of our biology, so important that we are essentially 99% bacteria. A lot of this bacteria is part of the human gut microbiome. This topic has been picking up interest in the field of biology, and have shown linkage to many diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. Not only do the bacteria in our gut play a role in preventing these diseases, but their symbiotic relationship helps us maintain metabolic functions.

File:The first and second phases of the NIH Human Microbiome Project.png

This is a depiction of the numerous types of bacteria in our microbiome.

Until recently we were unable to study these bacteria due to our inability to cultivate them in a lab; however, due to new advancements in sequencing technology we can now see how big of  role they play in our biology and our functions. These bacteria are “estimated to harbor 50- to 100-fold more genes, compared to the hose. These extra genes have added various type of enzymatic proteins which were non-encoded by the host, and play a critical role in facilitating host metabolism.” For example, gut microbiata is very important in fermenting unabsorbed starches. These bacteria also aid in the production of ATP. A certain type of bacteria generates about 70% of ATP for the colon with a substance called butyrate as the fuel.

File:Immune Response to Exotoxins.png

This image shows the interaction between the gut and the immune system. The immune system targets bacteria, but somehow not our gut bacteria. 

Another large role of the gut microbiome is its interactions with out immune system and nervous system. The bacteria in our gut suppress the inflammatory response in order to not be targeted by the immune system. This allows for a symbiotic relationship between us and the bacteria inside of us. This allows the gut bacteria to help regulate the inflammatory response without being stopped by the very thing it’s regulating. Without these bacteria our inflammatory responses would be completely out of the ordinary.

These findings with gut bacteria are fairly new and there is much more to come regarding their use in the field of medicine. Something to think about that I found fun was how little of us is really human. Ninety nine percent of you is bacteria, which essentially means that we are pretty much just giant colonies of bacteria. Kind of gross/amazing when you think about it.

Running on Bacteria

In a recent article it was found that elite athletes could have a step above average people due to some of the bacteria found in their gut. Researchers took stool samples what from elite runners from the Boston marathon in 2015 and found that there was a spike in appearance of the Veillonella. An in depth definition of what Veillonella is can be found here. For the purposes of the research it was said that these bacteria appears to take lactate produced by the muscles in the body and turns it into a compound that helps out the endurance of a runner. This same trend of increase of Veillonella was also found in 87 ultramarathon runners and Olympic rowers after a workout.

To prove their findings they cultivated one strand of Veillonella called Veillonella atypical from the runners and fed it to mice. They also gave the mice lactate in order to give the Veillonella food to feed on in the mice’s gut. The results to this was a 13 percent increase to the length of time these mice could run. However at the same time not all of the 32 mice that they gave this strand of Veillonella actually reacted to it. With the mice the Veillonella used the carbon from the lactate to grow and ended up producing propionate. An in depth definition of propionate can be found here. Propionate ended up raising the heart rate and oxygen use in the mice. For humans propionate also raises metabolism.

 

The overall take from these experiments give an interesting take on how these elite runners can do what they do. The food that someone eats isn’t the only thing that affects the microbiome in a humans gut. These bacteria could appear in the gut after only one session of working out or it could be something only certain people have and others don’t. It could also just be something that people who don’t focus heavily on running experience but it isn’t quite known yet. These things could also appear to The overall fact that bacteria in the stomach could be a big part of someone being athletically gifted is new and interesting to the scene of science. I find this cool as I’m a runner and a basketball player myself so to see that the bacteria in my stomach is what helps me do everything I do is incredibly interesting. Next time you run a mile or finish a game of your preferred sport thank your gut. The bacteria in there could just be the reason your body can do it at all.

 

Who’s Smarter: Girls vs. Boys?

According to the legendary myth, boys are smarter in science, technology, engineering and mathematic fields due to biological deficiencies in math aptitude. Recent studies show that this is not true. A study, by Jessica Cantlon at Carnegie Mellon University, evaluates 104 young children by scanning their brain activity while watching an educational video. When the scans were compared, it showed that both groups were equally engaged while watching the videos and there was no difference in how boys and girls processed math skills. To further this study, researchers compared brain maturity in connection to skill, by using brain scans of adults who watched the same educational video. Which concluded that the brains scans in adults and children -of both genders-  were statistically equivalent. This study confirmed the idea that math activities, in both genders, take place in the intraparietal suclus, which is the area of the brain involved in processing numbers, addition and subtraction, and estimating.

So, why are mathematic and computer science fields predominantly males? Well, it could be for the held stereotype that women and girls are biologically inferior at mathematics. This conventional image could also be linked to the fact that females were prevented from pursuing higher education until the 19th century. To show this unconscious bias, an Implicit Association Test was taken by employers. This test reveals an unconscious bias by forcing you to quickly group various words together. If the word man was immediately linked to math, then an implicit bias is shown. This study unveiled the prejudice that men were twice as likely to be hired for a simple math job since, men and women employers displayed a prejudice against women for a perceived lack of mathematical skill.

Secure Passcodes : Not Just For Your Computer… But For Your Gut

What is the Human Gut Microbiome?

Human gut microbiomes are made up of all the bacteria present in your gut. The Bacteria in your gut outnumbers the cells by a ratio of 10 to 1. While the presence of that much bacteria sounds like a bad thing, it can be confirmed that “the gut microbiome is very important for human health—that much we certainly know”.  The nearly 100 billion Bacteria cells per gram are actually what helps the body digest food and remove the bacteria that is bad for your gut.

 

(Left) Bacteria on vs not on the intestines       (Right) Gut Microbiome Graphic

A Unique Passcode

As said above, the human gut microbiome is essential to digesting food but more importantly keeping our body healthy. The thought of controlling a person’s gut bacteria in order to keep them healthy and fight illness is fascinating to scientists. The key to using the microbiome to fight sickness is in the “passcode” that is essential to unlocking its potential. Each microbe, according to recent research, requires a unique passcode. The research done by scientists according to phys.org says that once there is a way to determine the “passcode” it will unlock a whole new world of probiotic treatment in the future.

Why Else is the Microbiome important

According to other research done within the past few years, it has been found that sleep can also be linked to the human gut and stomach. The quality of sleep a person gets can be linked to their “biological rhythms, immune function, and nutrient metabolism” however it is still unknown to what extent the microbiome is affecting human sleep.

Conclusion

While researchers still have many questions about the human gut microbiome and how it contributes to health, wellness, and overall human biology, once they have come to some more concrete conclusions the impacts of controlling the bacteria in the human gut would exponentially improve the health of many people. It may sound weird that your bacteria have a “passcode” with which to be controlled, but hey, conclusive findings of the microbiome could even help you get a better night’s sleep! And who doesn’t want that?

Can your diet’s effect on gut bacteria play a role in reducing Alzheimer’s risk?

Could following a certain type of diet affect the gut microbiome in ways that decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease? According to researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine, that is a possibility.

In a small study, researchers were able to identify several distinct gut microbiome signatures in study participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), but not in the other participants with normal cognition. Researchers found that these bacterial signatures correlated with higher levels of markers of Alzheimer’s disease in the cerebrospinal fluid of the participants with MCI. Additionally, through cross-group dietary intervention, the study also revealed that a modified Mediterranean-ketogenic diet resulted in changes in the gut microbiome and its metabolites that correlated with reduced levels of Alzheimer’s markers in the members of both study groups.

“The relationship of the gut microbiome and diet to neurodegenerative diseases has recently received considerable attention, and this study suggests that Alzheimer’s disease is associated with specific changes in gut bacteria and that a type of ketogenic Mediterranean diet can affect the microbiome in ways that could impact the development of dementia,” said Hariom Yadav, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

The randomized, double-blind, single-site study involved 17 older adults, 11 diagnosed with MCI and six with normal cognition. These participants were randomly assigned to follow either the low-carbohydrate modified Mediterranean-ketogenic diet or a low-fat, higher carbohydrate diet for six weeks then, after a six week “washout” period, to switch to the other diet. Gut microbiome, fecal short chain fatty acids, and markers of Alzheimer’s in the cerebrospinal fluid were measured before and after each dieting period.

The limitations of the study included the subject’s group size, which also accountns for the lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, and age.

“Our findings provide important information that future interventional and clinical studies can be based on,” Yadav said. “Determining the specific role these gut microbiome signatures have in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease could lead to novel nutritional and therapeutic approaches that would be effective against the disease.”

Each human contains trillions of organisms that influence our metabolism, immune function, weight, and even cognitive health. It is so fascinating to examine the role of gut microbiomes in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. I believe diets can be very controversial, and I find it interesting to see researchers in this study show how the Mediterranean-ketogenic diet may be effective against Alzheimer’s. However, I am so intrigued to see where these findings may take us with approaches that may be effective against Alzheimer’s, whether they be nutritional or therapeutic approaches.

How Deforestation and Amazonian Fires Could Impact Indigenous People

 

Believe it or not, in 2019 there are still uncontacted(or at least minimally-contacted) tribes living in the Amazon and in Papua New Guinea and isolated islands in Indonesia.  These indigenous people to the region have been living in the Amazonian parts of Brazil, Peru, Venezuela,

and Colombia for centuries and remained almost completely uncontacted or minimally-contacted despite the rapid industrialization and deforestation of the surrounding areas.  Not only does illegal logging and mining harm the environment and strip ecosystems of their resources, but it also poses an anthropological threat where these indigenous people are losing places to live, in turn threatening their isolated way of life.  

Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Brazilians support indigenous rights and their protection, the issue remains unsolved due to the selfish nature of the illegal loggers and miners.

If the threats of logging and mining were not enough to the ecosystem of the Amazon, the wildfires have stripped away a substantial amount of the environment as well.  The fear of anthropologists and doctors is that these uncontacted tribes have no immunity to diseases outside of their communities. The threat could be mass disease and infection that the indigenous people would have no way of handling.  In addition, specific tribes have been hostile towards outsiders and they would struggle to assimilate into civilian life if they should even decide to do so.  

This issue is where anthropology and ecology collide, thus showing the duality and significance of the issue.

 

Human Disruption: Main Cause of Climate Change

 

Live Science, in a recent article about climate change, claims that according to a report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there are many significant impacts that have occurred on our precious planet. Marine life overheating as it grasps for oxygen in warming oceans, rising seas swallowing islands and coastal areas, storms growing and causing flooding, coral reefs dying, rare species going extinct, are just some of the events that have occurred due to climate change. These are now used as a wake up call, implying that there’s far worse to come if we do not control human-driven climate disruption. 

The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate presents its latest evidence that climate change is already underway and we are “on thin ice and running out of time to act,” said Bruce Stein, chief scientist for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

One of the main causes of this climate change are fossil fuels. If the use of these fossil fuels isn’t reduced and if global warming continues, it could have a huge negative impact on both wildlife and humans. Researchers recently found more than 200 dead reindeer in Norway; they starved to death due to climate change, which disrupted their access to the plants they eat. After the precipitation froze, creating “tundra ice caps,” a thick layer of ice that prevented the reindeer from reaching vegetation in their usual winter grazing pastures. This forced them to dig pits in shoreline snow to find seaweed and kelp, which are less nutritious than the reindeer’s usual fare.

In addition, there are several other effects that human activity has had on the environment. According to the IPCC report, 50% of the coastal wetlands have been lost over the last 100 years due to the results of human pressures and extreme climate events. They predict that by 2100, seas could rise by more than three feet, which could result in the displacement of millions of people. They also predict that by 2050, marine heat waves will be 50 times more frequent and the uppermost ocean zones could lose more than 3% of their oxygen, eliminating populations of marine animals and harming fisheries. Glaciers could be reduced by as much as 36%, affecting about 4 million people who live in the Arctic and around 670 million people who inhabit mountainous regions. The widespread loss of ice and snow could lead to water shortages, affect food security, and cause intense droughts and wildfires. Evidence has also suggested that warming oceans have caused an increase in tropical hurricanes according to the report. 

The Earth’s fate lies in our hands.  Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC, says that we can control global warming if we create advances to all aspects of our societies, such as energy, land and ecosystems, urban and infrastructure, and industry. Roberts also suggests we must as early and decisively to avoid permanent changes and risks, all in an effort to improve our lives and achieve sustainability around the world. It will require “unprecedented” political actions to eliminate all the impacts that human-made carbon has created on our oceans. The youth are our strongest supporters to prevent the most severe consequences to our planet. 

 

Does Exposure to Toxins In the Environment Affect One’s Offspring’s Immune System?

A study has recently surfaced stating that maternal exposure to industrial pollution may harm the immune system of one’s offspring and that this impairment is then passed from generation to generation, resulting in weak body defenses against viruses.

Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., with the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Environmental Medicine, led the study and conducted research in mice, which have similar immune system functions as humans. Previously, studies have shown that exposure to toxins in the environment can have effects on the respiratory, reproductive, and nervous system function among generations; however, Lawrence’s research is the first study to declare that the immune system is also impacted.

“The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is a touchstone for many aspects of human health,” said Lawrence. “But in terms of the body’s ability to fights off infections, this study suggests that, to a certain extent, you may also be what your great-grandmother ate.”

“When you are infected or receive a flu vaccine, the immune system ramps up production of specific kinds of white blood cells in response,” said Lawrence. “The larger the response, the larger the army of white blood cells, enhancing the ability of the body to successfully fight off an infection. Having a smaller size army — which we see across multiple generations of mice in this study — means that you’re at risk for not fighting the infection as effectively.”

In the study, researchers exposed pregnant mice to environmentally relevant levels of a chemical called dioxin, which is a common by-product of industrial production and wast incineration, and is also found in some consumer products. These chemicals eventually are consumed by humans as a result of them getting into the food system, mainly found in animal-based food products.

The scientists found the production and function of the mice’s white blood cells was impaired after being infected with the influenza A virus. Researchers observed the immune response in the offspring of the mice whose mothers were exposed to dioxin. Additionally, the immune response was also found in the following generations, as fas as the great-grandchildren (or great- grandmice). It was also found that this immune response was greater in female mice.  This discovery now allows researchers to have more information and evidence to be able to more accurately create a claim about this theory.

As a result of the study, researchers were able to state that the exposure to dioxin alters the transcription of genetic instructions. According to the researchers, the environmental exposure to pollutants does not trigger a genetic mutation. Instead, ones cellular machinery is changed and the immune response is passed down generation to generation. This discovery explains information that was originally unexplainable. It is obviously difficult to just avoid how much toxins you are exposed to in the environment, but it is definitely interesting to see the extent of the immune responses in subsequent generations. We can only hope that this new information, and further discoveries, help people adjust what they release into this world that results in these harmful toxins humans are exposed to, and their offsprings.

 

 

 

Stem Cells and CRISPR

Many cells can reproduce but there are a few types of cells that are not able to reproduce. One of these types are nerve cells, the cells that cary messages from your brain to your body.  There are many ways nerve cells can be destroyed or damaged, by trauma or drug use.  Millions of people are effected by losing nerve cells and for so long no one could think of a way to recreate them; until the discovery of stem cells.

After fertilization, and when the newly formed zygote is growing, it is made up of a sack of cells.  Some of these cells are stem cells which develop according to their environment. Because of the behavior of stem cells, scientists theorized that if they placed stem cells in the brain or spinal chord, two areas that have an abundance of neurons, the stem cells would turn into a neuron because of the environment it was in.  But, when they tried introducing stem cells into the body, the immune system treated them as an foreign body, as it should. Our immune system has to treat anything that does not come from our body as an enemy or we could get extremely sick.  However, the downside is organ transplants, blood transfusions, etc. are dangerous because they could cause a serious immune rejection.

Someone experiencing a spleen transplant rejection

Cells have a surface protein that displays molecular signals to identify if it is self or foreign.  Removing the protein causes NK (natural killer) cells to target the cell as foreign. Scientist haven’t been able to figure out how to make a foreign cell not seem foreign until Lewis Lanier, chair of UCSF’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and his team found a surface protein that, when added to the cell, did not cause any immune response.  The idea would be to use CRISPR/cas9 to edit the DNA of the stem cells, and in doing so would remove the code for the current surface protein and add the code for the new surface protein.

After the scientists had edited the stem cells, to have the correct signal protein, they released them into a mouse and observed that there was no immune rejection. Truly amazing. Maybe brain damage could be helped by this science one day. Tell me your thoughts on Stem Cells in the comments!

For more information, please go check out the primary source of this article.

 

 

CRISPR Technology is Finding Its Place in the Agricultural Industry

CRISPR technology is now laying a foundation in the agricultural world, trying to help corn growers improve the speed, versatility, and output of their crops. It has been difficult to implement CRISPR technology thus far, as the cells walls of plants, at a microscopic level, are particularly tough to penetrate. Fundamentally, CRISPR “…consists of enzymatic scissors called Cas9 that a guide made from RNA shuttles to an exact place in a genome.” The difficulty with plants cells is that, in comparison to animal cells, the extra-rigid cell walls make it immensely difficult for the guide RNA (gRNA) and the Cas9 to reach their destination on the genome. In response to this problem researchers have come up with what is described as an “inelegant” solution to this problem where they “…splice […] CRISPR genes into a bacterium that can breach the plant cell wall or put them on gold particles and shoot them with what’s known as a gene gun.” Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work in the crucial corn varieties where it is needed. However, a team of researchers in North Carolina, Timothy Kelliher and Quideng Que of Syngenta, in Durham, North Carolina have come up with an even more ingenious solution to deal with the stubborn plant cell walls. Haploid induction “…allows pollen to fertilize plants without permanently transferring ‘male’ genetic material to offspring. The newly created plants only have a female set of chromosomes – making them haploid instead of the traditional diploid. Haploid induction itself can lead to increased breeding efficiency and higher yielding plants.” This same method has been found to work in wheat and even Arabidopsis, “…a genus of plants related to cabbage, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower.” Yet again, sadly, CRISPR faces another drawback as scientist not that “…if it were done in the field, the changes wouldn’t spread because the male genome in the pollen – which carries the CRISPR apparatus – disappears shortly after fertilization.” However, there is still much hope for CRISPR technology, and it is without a doubt that we are making big strides into the future with gene editing technology.

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