AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Biotech

The Revolutionary Face Mask

Since the start of the pandemic, society has struggled to develop an efficient way to detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the atmosphere around you. Well, this is no longer the case thanks to young inventor Yin Fang. The intelligent Yin Fang has developed a complicated face mask that can detect the virus in the atmosphere, and on the mask. Though this does seem extreme, it is ultimately revolutionary as it will allow the us to detect COVID-19 everywhere, which will help stop the spread of it. 

3M N95 Particulate Respirator

How the virus spreads 

SARS-CoV-2 is an airborne virus that hitches a ride between hosts when we breathe in and out. The virus can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak, breathe, ect…

Coughing icon

How the mask works 

The mask uses special sensors that react when the viral proteins connect to the face mask. It uses an extremely thin chamber that is filled with the virus proteins so that they bind together and cause the sensor to activate. When the connection is active, the sensor communicates with an app on your phone, to tell it the virus is present. 

How the face mask works is quite similar to what we have learned in our AP Biology. The protein spikes on the virus bind to the mask, almost like how the COVID-19 virus enters the cell. COVID-19 enters a cell when it binds to a receptor and when it does, it enters the cell through phagocytosis and forms a vesicle around it. Though the virus does not get engulfed on the mask, it binds to the receptor, which activates the alarm on your phone, similar to how a virus binds to a cell. 


Physical features on the face mask 

According to Fang, the mask is extremely lightweight and portable. It has a similar design to your N95 Which allows for a mixture of protection and comfort while wearing the mask. 


The Future of the Mask

The new face mask will ultimately allow us to be in indoor spaces while staying safe during a viral breakout. It will enable us to be cautious of our surroundings if the virus is detected. But most importantly, Fang says “The system on the mask could also be updated with aptamers that recognize different pathogens”

Bringing the Human Gut Microbiome into the Light

The human gut microbiome is an incredible system of symbiotic organisms. These micro-organisms that provide us with vitamins and amino acids as well as break down toxins and protect us from harmful invaders. We could not live without them and they could not survive without their host, us. We carry over 3 pounds of these little helpers in our body and outnumber our cells. Although this system is so important to our survival, it has been hard to study for long periods of time, until now. Judah Folkman, professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School states, “”Until now, use of traditional culture methods and even more sophisticated organoid cultures have prevented the microbiome from being studied beyond one or two days. With our human gut-on-a-chip, we can not only culture the normal gut microbiome for extended times.”

 Escherichia coli

E. Coli 10000x magnified

The human gut-on-a-chip is constructed from a clear, flexible polymer roughly the size of the a flash drive. This chip simulates the environment of our gut so well that cultures can last up to weeks. This extended period of time can allow for major breakthroughs in the study of the microbiome and what happens when things do not go as planned. Judah Folkman adds, “we can also analyze contributions of pathogens, immune cells, and vascular and lymphatic endothelium, as well as model specific diseases to understand complex pathophysiological responses of the intestinal tract.”


The Wyss team thinks that this new technology can help treat patients by eventually culturing there own cells and microbiome on the human gut-on-a-chip to test different treatments. This new technology, although not directly discovering anything about the human gut microbiome, will lead to major discoveries down the line.


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Genetically Altered Soybean Might Be Just What America Needs

Soybean oil

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs have long had an unfortunate reputation. Viewed on par with crops that make use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, and often thought to be unhealthy. Organic farmers and magazines scorn their use and consumers think twice before purchasing products that make use of them. However, Monsanto, an extremely large and influential agriculture company that is similarly often cast in a negative light, has teamed up with DuPont Pioneer to revamp the genetic makeup of the soybean to create a bean that produces oil completely free of trans fats. It’s new fat composition is similar to that of olive oil, and it can potentially be produced on a larger scale and cheaper than it’s olive counterpart. Companies believe that this new innovation will help to improve the public image of GMOs and other biotech. As most endeavors up to this point have focused on resistance to weeds and parasites, rather than health and taste, it has been easy for consumers to create a negative view of  GMOs, but this new soybean, more consumer oriented, might help to sway that view.

The specific genetic modifications to the oil are the alteration of a gene that converts oleic fatty acids into linoleic acid. This conversion causes soybean oil to have an extremely short shelf life. The problem used to be solved by treating the oil with hydrogen gas, but this caused it to become saturated. With the gene silenced, there is no need for the hydrogen treatment, and the oil can remain unsaturated and free of trans-fats.

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