BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: China

Pneumonia Outbreak in China: What You Should Know.

Weeks before the starting of 2020, a mysterious case of pneumonia seemingly caused by a contagious virus broke in Wuhan, China. The outbreak occurred in a local fish market which sold the meat of various exotic animals. The fascinating thing about this strange case is that scientists were unable to link it to previously known about pathogens such as SARS, MERS, or influenza. The true culprit of the spreading infection remained a mystery until scientists were able to analyze the genetic code of what they believed was the virus causing the panic.

A New Coronavirus

On January 10th the DNA Genome of the virus was recorded and scientists were finally able to identify the virus as a pathogen known as a “coronavirus“. Coronaviruses are fairly common and spread all types of illnesses from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS. China and the world at large have actually gotten pretty familiar with handling these types of diseases as a global outbreak of SARS that originated in China occurred in 2003, barely a decade before the emergence of this new coronavirus. Thanks to this SARS outbreak, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800, China has since had a very cautionary culture when it comes to medical issues. It is not uncommon to see people wearing medical masks regularly in public in order to prevent contamination in the highly populated areas of China. One can assume that this culture in China has helped with the current outbreak’s speedy treatment.

Effects and Outcomes

As a result of the spreading of the virus in the seafood supermarket, 59 patients were brought to the hospital, seven of which were in critical condition. It is known that coronaviruses all come from animal to human transmission so it is no surprise that the virus would appear so rapidly in an area where many humans interact with many animals. Since the outbreak, this market has been closed as of January 1st to few’s surprise. However, it is sad to say that the virus has claimed the life of a 61 year old man how seemingly was weak from many other ailments from his old age. While the newfound coronavirus has been proven to be deadly, many medical professionals and The WHO (World Health Organization) say there should be no cause for great concern as the outbreak has seemingly been contained since late December and there are no true prospects of it becoming a world like epidemic like SARS in 2003. Nonetheless, this recent case of pathological disease spreading serves as a reminder of the deadly forces we must all be careful of every day.

CRISPER Monkeys Cloned

“CRISPR-Cas9”, also known as CRISPR, is a relatively new technology that allows scientists to alter the human genome and gene function. CRISPR has been popularized for its many potential abilities, namely, to cure human diseases, but a recent experiment by researchers in Shanghai has shown further use for CRISPR. In a study published in the National Science Review on January 24, Scientists in Shanghai cloned 5 gene-edited Macaque monkeys. The scientists used CRISPER to edit the monkey’s genomes and remove BMAL1, which controls circadian regulation, to create sleeps disorders. The scientists then chose the monkey with the “correct gene editing and most severe disease phenotypes” to clone, a feat first done in China January of 2018.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rhesus_Macaque_monkey_look.jpg

Their ultimate goal is to be able to produce genetically identical monkeys for gene disease and biomedical research, and reduce the overall amount of monkeys used for scientific research.  “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,” says Qiang Sun in the statement. “This line of research will help to reduce the amount of macaque monkeys currently used in biomedical research around the world,” says study coauthor Mu-ming Poo. “Because the clones wouldn’t have confounding genetic differences, preclinical drug trials may be able to get by with fewer animals, Poo suggests.”

 

 

 

CRISPR Research into HIV Immunity Might Also Improve Human Cognition

In the quest to genetically master human immunity to HIV, Chinese CRISPR researchers may have come across a way to control human intelligence as well.

Specifically, the trial of deleting the CCR5 gene in twin girls Lulu and Nana has lead to a scarily powerful discovery that scientists are within reach of being able to genetically modify human brain function. Scientists were initially interested in deleting the CCR5 gene because it codes for a beta chemokine receptor membrane protein which the HIV virus hijacks to enter red blood cells. However, when this alteration was tested on mice embryos in California, the resulting offspring showed evidence of improved mental capacity.

https://pixabay.com/illustrations/dna-genetic-material-helix-proteins-3539309/

After this unexpected result, scientists investigated further how the alteration would impact human function with the twins’ lives in mind. Experiments yielded evidence of improved brain recovery after a stroke and potential greater learning capacity in school. Scientists at UCLA uncovered an alternative role for the CCR5 gene in memory and suppressing the formation of new connections in the brain. The absence of this gene in the human genome would likely make memory formation easier via more efficient neural connections.

Although the mice experiment suggested that CCR5’s deletion would improve mental capacity rather than harm it, scientists cannot be sure how the alteration has impacted Lulu’s and Nana’s cognitive function. Some also fear that this discovery may have been the first Chinese attempt to genetically create superior intelligence, despite their claim to the MIT Technology Review that the true purpose of the study was to investigate HIV immunity. Although the Hong Kong scientists who engineered the twins did not publicly intend to improve human cognition, they confirmed a familiarity with UCLA’s discovered connections between CCR5 and human cognition all throughout their trial.

Are we within reach of a time when we can play with the circuit board of the human genome to raise a person’s IQ? Quite possibly. But only time and research will tell.

Meet Charlotte’s Cousin (She’s Coming to the Web this Year for Thanksgiving)

You’re taking a nice autumn walk, enjoying the scenic pathway covered in red, yellow, and brown beautiful leaves. You stop at tree and notice one small, shriveled up decaying leaf still hanging. In a whimsical motion, you decide to pluck the final leaf… Aaaaaahhhh! Spider!

Folks, you’ve heard of the stick bug. Let me introduce you to the leaf spider (it has yet to be officially named!). Don’t worry, you’re unlikely to find one unless you’re in China.

The Leaf Spider’s Cousin: The Barn Spider                                      Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tmh9/233350520

On a research excursion in Yunnan, China in 2011 (they published their findings on November 11), researcher Matjaz Kuntner* and his team came across an unusual species unidentified by the likes of man, the only known spider to resemble a dried up leaf!

Camouflage isn’t new in the animal kingdom; it’s a popular survival trait. But its more common with insects like the stick bug than arachnids.

However, roughly 100 species of spiders have bodies that don’t resemble your typical halloween decoration, ranging from a jumble of twigs to bird poo. But nothing like this!

They described the spider’s back as looking like a healthy green life while its underside resembled a dead brown leaf. And a hairy, stalk like structure branches out of its abdomen like the stem of a leaf! Take a look for yourself!

After searching for another specimen for two weeks, the researchers found only one more: a juvenile male. Searching the world’s museum for another sample, only one resembling the new specimen could be found (in a museum in Vietnam) but it is suspected this specimen comes from a known species whereas these two new individuals are a brand new discovery!

But the icing on the cake… as the title suggests, this spider is a cousin of Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web! Yes, the barn spider (Araneus cavaticus) and this new spider both belong to the Poltys genus along with 3,000 relatives (what a family reunion!).

One thing to note: the researchers noticed leaves stuck to the branch the spider was resting on by silk, indicating that the spider might have placed the leaves there on purpose. Keep an eye out for new research on the matter in the future.

So, the pivotal question I ask anyone who reads this… what should the spider be called? Do you know of any cool arachnids or insects that use camouflage in unique ways? Let me know in the comments.

Original Article: http://www.livescience.com/56910-leaf-mimicking-spider-found.html

 

*Matjaz Kuntner is a principal investigator with the Evolutionary Zoology Lab at the Biological Institute Jovan Hadzi, Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

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