AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: #microorganims

Potential Life On Venus?

In an article published on September 19th, 2020, Dennis Overbye speaks on a new discovery that has sparked conversation for the possibility of life on the planet venus. On September 14th, scientists announced the discovery of Phosphine gas on Venus. The significance of this discovery is that scientists don’t know what could potentially produce the gas except for microbes. According to the National Center for Biotechnological Information(NCBI), “Microbes are tiny living things that are found all around us and are too small to be seen by the naked eye. They live in water, soil, and in the air.” Overbye states that “on earth, anyway, the only natural source of phosphine is microbes; the gas is often associated with feces.” He quickly counters this by acknowledging that there is a large possibility that scientists don’t know everything about Phosphine gas.

Microbes, which are both eukaryotes and prokaryotes(or neither), consist of archaea, bacteria, fungi, viruses, protists, and other microscopic animals. Eukaryotes are cells that simply consist of DNA within a nucleus while prokaryotes are unicellular organisms that don’t consist of a nucleus nor organelles. As learned throughout the year, the difference in complexity and functions of eukaryotic and prokaryotic organisms widen the array of the potential situation in Venus. If both prokaryotes and eukaryotes can survive in the atmosphere of Venus, the potential answer to what enables this grows. Also, due to the microscopic nature of microbes, also known as microorganisms, it would be very hard to infer whether they are or aren’t present on Venus.

As the article continues, Overbye continues to speak on what was previously known about the planet. He references information from “Carl Sagan, then a doctoral student at the University of Chicago” who “provided an accurate explanation for Venus’s torrid temperature, in his 1960 Ph.D. thesis. The planet’s crushing carbon dioxide atmosphere had created a runaway greenhouse effect, he concluded. Venus was a lifeless desert, at least on the ground.”

With this, Sagan and Harold Morowitz, a biochemist at Yale, pointed out, in 1967, how the clouds of Venus seemed more suitable for life. ““If small amounts of minerals are stirred up to the clouds from the surface, it is by no means difficult to imagine an indigenous biology in the clouds of Venus,” they wrote in a paper in Nature.” These claims, which were not very popular, have become very relevant again due to new findings and open up many possibilities.

All in all, the search for life on other planets is very much up and running. Will we find it soon?


Have No Fear, Gut Microbes Are Here!

Ever dream about being a real life Captain America? Well, with the help of microbes, we are one step closer to achieving a “super soldier.” Microbes might not make a soldier muscular, but they can help with soldiers’ health and versatility. Scientist Jeff Tabor is working on engineering a probiotic organism that can help humans easily fight diseases, prevent obesity, and change their body’s ability to adapt to certain environments.

The gut bacteria affects many functions of the human body. The digestive system, immune system, and nervous system are all influenced by gut bacteria. Disrupting these microorganisms can cause indigestion, a weak immune system, depression, insomnia, and affect other cognitive abilities. Tabor’s goal is simply to create a microbe that can be consumed to prevent these problems.

Gut Microbe

Gut Microbe

Initially, Tabor wanted to use these microbes to target obesity because scientists have abundant knowledge of obesity at the molecular level. He recently succeeded in genetically modifying E.Coli to detect chemicals in the body that carry disease in mice guts. He hopes to use this modified E.Coli to sense chemicals in the gut that are connected to obesity and then use other molecules to prevent this obesity. The creation of a microbe that can control weight can be extremely helpful for the U.S. armed forces. For example, soldiers going from sea level to the top of a mountain way above sea level experience changes in temperature and pressure. Using this engineered gut microbe, the soldiers can put on weight to help them keep warm on top of the mountain and then lose weight to keep cool at sea level.

Another military benefit that these microbes can provide is to help soldiers operate effectively on little to no sleep or to help soldiers adapt to changes in their circadian rhythms, either from time change or going below sea level in a submarine. Scientists are interested in experimenting with the gut microbe to be able to achieve these goals in the future.

Some people might be afraid of the possible affects that these genetically modified bacteria might have on the human body. However, Tabor’s goal is for the bacteria to stay in the gut for about six hours to do its job and then self-destruct or die naturally to prevent the bacteria for staying in the body too long. There are other concerning issues about creating a microbe that can help prevent obesity. The creation would take away any incentive for humans to eat healthy and focus on their diets because they could just use the microbe to prevent gaining weight. Any new scientific experiment comes with its pros and cons, but using gut microbes for human health, especially for the military, can be a big step in the right direction.

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