BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: BMAL1

Does The Time of Day Control Memory Ability?

Researchers University of Tokyo Department of Applied Biological Chemistry have found evidence that the time of day may influence one’s forgetfulness. They were able to study this by identifying and studying a gene in mice that controls memory. 

The key to their research was making a test that differentiates between never learning information versus not remembering information. To ensure that the mice learned new information, the mice were given a new object and then given the same object later in the day. The mice were considered to have “learned” new information if they spent less time exploring the new object. 

Researchers repeated this experiment with mice that had BMAL1 and with mice that did not have BMAL1. BMAL1 is a protein that controls different genes and normally fluctuates between high and low levels. Through tests, researchers discovered that the mice without the BMAL1 (normal mice), were more forgetful when they first woke up. 

Though the researcher’s findings may indicate that humans are also more forgetful early in the morning, more research meeds to be done. Scientists are currently trying to find ways to strengthen memory through the BMAL1 pathway, that can possibly help cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. They are also curious to determine the evolutionary benefit of having less memory ability later in the day. This study can be seen as the first step towards a major scientific discovery. 

Monkeys Cloned with CRISPR Technology

Chinese researchers used CRISPR technology to genetically edit macaque monkey embryos in order to create five monkeys with severe sleeping disorders by removing BMAL1, a gene important for circadian regulation. They then chose the monkey of the five with the most severe symptoms to clone as a model to use for future tests on monkeys with these disorders. The idea behind this research was to create a template to create clone monkeys with the disease to run tests on rather than the real monkeys themselves.

A large issue with this experiment was the ethics behind it. While the end result is to reduce the number of monkeys used in research experiments. According to the study, the disorder in the monkeys resulted in not only lack of sleep but also changes in blood hormones, increased anxiety and depression, and even “schizophrenia-like” behavior. Bioethicist Carolyn Neuhaus thinks the study is morally wrong because the monkeys are used as tools, and the research’s success is based on their suffering.

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Genes

Planet of the (CRISPR-Edited, Cloned) Apes

Several months ago, scientists in China cloned five gene-edited macaque monkeys. The clones were made through the somatic cell nuclear transfer method (SCNT)—a process in which a viable embryo is created from a body cell and an egg cell—that was used to produce the first primate clones around a year ago. In this instance, however, the monkeys’ genomes were first edited using CRISPR-Cas9—a unique genome editing tool that enables geneticists to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding, or altering sections of the DNA sequence—to show symptoms of sleep disorders by eliminating BMAL1, one of the positive elements in the mammalian auto-regulatory TTFL, which is responsible for generating molecular circadian rhythms. The result? The monkeys exhibited a wide range of circadian disorder phenotypes, including elevated night-time locomotive activities, reduced sleep time, reduced circadian cycling of blood hormones, increased anxiety and depression, and other schizophrenia-like behaviors. 

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Macaque Monkey

Naturally, the results of the investigation triggered much backlash. According to Carolyn Neuhaus of The Hastings Center, the researchers viewed the suffering of the monkeys as a triumph, and failed to consider the moral implications of their investigation. “It’s very clear that these monkeys are seen as tools,” she told Gizmodo, the latter publication writing in a similar sentiment, “Their experiment is a minefield of ethical quandaries—and makes you wonder whether the potential benefits to science are enough to warrant all of the harm to these monkeys”. 

Nevertheless, the researchers involved in the experiment remain firm in their support of the experiment—the goal of which was to produce genetically identical monkey models of disease for biomedical research—on both moral and scientific grounds. “We believe that this approach of cloning gene-edited monkeys could be used to generate a variety of monkey models for gene-based diseases, including many brain diseases, as well as immune and metabolic disorders and cancer,” stated Qiang Sun, one of the research paper’s authors and director of the Nonhuman Primate Research Facility at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai. Moreover, Reuters reported, “Xinhua [the state news agency] said the program, supervised by the institute’s ethics panel, was in line with international ethical standards for animal research”. Time will tell, ultimately, if the results of their experiment prove consequential on a larger scale. 

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