BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: science (Page 1 of 2)

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.

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.

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.

 

 

Message Intercepted – Commence attack on bacteria!

Tevenphage – Photo credit to Wikimedia Commons

While experimenting, a group of scientists noticed that a A virus, VP882, was able to intercept and read the chemical messages between the bacteria to determine when was the best time to strike. Cholera bacteria communicate through molecular signals, a phenomenon known as quorum sensing, to check their population number.  The signal in question is called DPO.  VP 882, a subcategory of bacteria’s natural predator, the bacteriophage, waits for the bacteria to multiply and is able to check for the DPO.  Once there is enough bacteria, in the experiment’s case they observed cholera, the virus multiples and consumes the bacteria like an all-you-can-eat buffet. The scientists tested this by introducing DPO to a mixture of the virus and bacteria not producing DPO and found that that the bacteria was in fact being killed.

The great part about VP 882 is it’s shared characteristic with a plasmid, a ring of DNA that floats around the cell. This makes it easier to possibly genetically engineer the virus so that it will consume other types of bacteria. This entails it can be genetically altered to defeat other harmful bacterial infections, such as salmonella.

Ti plasmid – Photo credit to Wikimedia Commons

Current phage therapy is flawed because phages can only target a single type of bacteria, but infections can contain several types of different bacteria.  Patients then need a “cocktail” with a variety of phages, which is a difficult due to the amount of needed testing in order to get approved for usage.  With the engineering capability of using a single type of bacteria killer and the ability to turn it to kill bacteria, phage therapy might be able to advance leaps and bounds.

As humans’ storage of effective antibiotics depletes, time is ticking to find new ways to fight bacterial infections.  Are bacteriophages and bacteria-killing viruses like VP 882, the answers?

Survival of the Fittest or Laziest?

For hundreds of years biologists have essentially fully accepted Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest;” but, have they been wrong all this time? Scientists believe that there could be a link from high metabolic rates to extinction. Luke Strotz, scientist and researcher at the University of Kansas, studied the effect of metabolic intake, energy intake by an organism, in mollusks.

Strotz and his team decided to use mollusks as their objects of interest due to the sheer abundance of data that they could retrieve from the past 5 million years. Strotz observed that certain mollusk species with higher energy intakes are extinct; while, mollusks species that have considerably lower metabolic intakes are still in existence today. Thus, in the mollusk group, it was quite clear that the higher metabolic rate correlated with faster extinction. Although this study is quite primitive in nature, and thus should not be compared to humans, it is perplexing to see that a species in the mollusk group can continue to exist because of its “laziness” or low metabolic intake.

Although Strotz’s evidence is convincing, I personally do not believe that “Survival of the Laziest” should be taken seriously, as mollusks are extremely different from humans. Thus, it would be illogical to compare the correlation of this study to that of the lives of humans. So, unfortunately, it appears laziness is most likely not a trait that the human race should endorse.

What do you think? Can laziness really save the human race? Only time will tell.

 

The research from Luke Strotz is published in the journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

 

Advancement in Modern Antiseptics

Before the 1870’s, sanitation was a huge problem in the growing world.  Doctors would clean tools with wine or hard alcohol, people’s teeth were falling out from not cleaning them, and people were getting infections from surgery at an alarming rate, etc.  Since so many surgeries resulted in infections, they then had to amputate that area.  Amputations had a 45-50% success rate.  This all means that if you needed surgery, you probably would die.  It wasn’t until many advances in microbiology that Joseph Lister introduced Carbolic Acid as an antiseptic in medicine.  He discovered that it cleaned surgical instruments extremely well, and prevented many infections from surgery.   This discover made the maternal death rates drop from 18% to 1%.  Later, another antiseptic, Listerine, was made by another scientist for a general sanitation, in which it was named after Lister, the father of antiseptics. 

Joseph Lister, Father of Antiseptics

You might be thinking, “All of this happened in the past, and our antiseptics are so good now, why do should I care?”  As it turns out, modern antiseptics don’t actually sterilize things 100%, and although they do a pretty good job, and there are still new antiseptics being discovered every year.  One of these recent discoveries is an antiseptic for caesarean deliveries.  A new solution of Chlorhexidine and alcohol (2% chlorhexidine gluconate with 70% isopropyl alcohol) cuts cesarean section surgical site infections by half compared with the usual solution of iodine and alcohol (8.3% povidone-iodine with 72.5% isopropyl alcohol). Dr. Methodius G. Tuuli, who is a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, is responsible for this amazing discovery and has spoken at the Annual Pregnancy Meeting sponsored by the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and had his work published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  

The experiment itself consisted of 1,147 patients who delivered a baby through a c-section.  The doctors then randomly used either the new solution or the old alcohol/iodine solution. Besides that, nothing else changed in the procedure for postpartum women; and then 30 days after being discharged from the hospital they were given a call to see if the surgery site had developed an infection. The only downside that is known about Chlorhexidine, is that it supposedly causes more allergic reactions than the iodine solution; however none were observed during the experiment. 

Antiseptics are often overlooked when it comes to the best inventions or discoveries in science because it is so mundane.  People never stop and think what life was like before we had all these amazing soaps and sanitary solutions. To me, it is mind-blowing that less than 150 years ago, if a person needed surgery on any of the limbs,  the odds are they would probably get an infection, then have to get it amputated, which gave them a 50% chance to live.  Do you readers agree that Antiseptics have been our greatest discovery? Let me know in the comment below!

Scientists developing ways to stop kidney failure?

In case you did not know, before week 34-36, the fetus develops 500,000-1,000,000 nephrons in the kidney. During these weeks, nephron progenitor (NP) cells are fully depleted and the body will no longer undergo nephrogenesis in its lifetime. Hence, if one were to lose a sufficient number of nephrons, the kidney would fail.

However, The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has found ways to isolate NP cells in order to investigate how they become renal cells. If scientists can develop an understanding of these cells, they might be able to figure out how to regenerate renal cells after a kidney failure.

This investigation can lead elsewhere, for example towards bioengineering and ways to regenerate other organs through these concepts. Overall, one can agree that this can lead to a breakthrough in future biology and medicinal studies.

 

 

Long Island Sound May Be Getting a Timely Makeover

In its glory days, the Long Island Sound has supported many fisheries for lobsters, oysters, crabs, etc. It still boasts of 170 species of fish and more than 1,200 species of invertebrates. In recent years, however, the Sound has been plagued with excess nitrogen. The build-up causes eutrophication, in which the extra nitrogen feeds seaweed and algae blooms, causing them to use up more oxygen. As a result, the fish don’t have adequate oxygen and perish, and the ecology of the Sound makes it uninhabitable for shellfish.

Where does all of this nitrogen come from? The main sources of nitrogen are septic tanks and sewers, fertilizers from lawns and parks, certain agricultural practices, and atmospheric deposition from dust, rain, and snow. Because the severity of the problem is based largely on human practices, it is much worse in some areas than in others.

Bridgeport  Seaside Park looking over Long Island Sound 2011

View of Long Island Sound from Bridgeport Seaside Park (credit: 826 Paranormal)

Jamie Vaudrey and her team at the University of Connecticut wanted to make this issue a priority for people, so they made a model displaying the level of nitrogen runoff in the Sound. They painstakingly collected data for four years from each of the 116 estuaries, harbors, rivers, and bays of the Sound. This allowed people to see how this problem affected not only the Sound but their local beach or the coast they sail on.

The model is an Excel spreadsheet that can be easily downloaded. In addition, the “scenario” section of the model allows people to alter a communities’ settings (such as lessening fertilizer usage) to see how it can lessen the nitrogen runoff. Another feature of the model shows the places that are impacted the most by the issue.

The model is already in use by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Nature Conservancy. Vaudrey is creating a second model to shed more light on how every bay is affected differently by the introduction of excess nitrogen.

Do you think that this model will prompt local governments to enact legislation to solve this problem? Will this model be extended to other bodies of water suffering from this same fate? Let me know in the comments!

Original Article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170219165109.htm

Tickle, Tickle!

You might be wondering, why am I ticklish? Or, why do I laugh if somebody else tickles me, but not when I try to tickle myself? The mystery of ticklishness has been sought after for decades, including by Darwin and Aristotle.

A recent study tested ticklishness on rats, and the results were astonishing! The rats reacted to human tickles with ultrasonic “laughter cells” and emitted various calls. While many humans are most ticklish on their armpits and stomachs, rats were found to be most ticklish on their bellies and underneath their feet. They performed “joy jumps” after being tickled, which is a behavior associated with joyful subjects in various mammals.

 

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Researchers continued searching for answers, and sought to discover how being ticklish relates to the brain and whether or not it is a trick of the brain that rewards interacting.

When researchers Shimpei Ishiyama and Michael Brecht investigated the response of the rat’s brain to tickling, they observed nerve cells that responded strongly to tickling and they found very similar responses during play behaviors as during tickling- even without the scientist touching the rat. These nerve cells also worked in reverse. For example, if the rats were made anxious, they were less ticklish and the activity in these cells were reduced. It was discovered that activity in the trunk somatosensory cortex is what led to ticklishness.

The discovery of the connection between brain responses to tickling and play was incredible.

 

Other Articles About This Topic:

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/11/10/501447965/brain-scientists-trace-rat-ticklishness-to-play-behavior

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/11/11/watch-rats-giggle-and-jump-for-joy-at-being-tickled/

More CRISPR Improvements

Crispr-Cas9 is a genome editing tool that is creating a whole lot of buzz in the science world. It is the newest faster, cheaper and more accurate way of editing DNA.  Crispr- Cas9 also has a wide range of potential applications. It is a unique technology that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of the genome by cutting out, replacing or adding parts to the DNA sequence.  The CRISPR-Cas9 system consists of two key molecules that introduce a mutation into the DNA. The first Molecule is an enzyme called Cas9. Cas9 acts as a pair of scissors that can cut the two strands of DNA at a specific location in the genome so that bits of DNA can be added or removed.  The second is a piece of RNA called guide RNA or gRNA. This consists of a small piece of pre-designed RNA sequence located within a longer RNA scaffold. The scaffold part binds to DNA and the pre-designed sequence guides Cas9 to the right part of the genome. This makes sure that the Cas9 enzyme cuts at the right point in the genome.Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 4.50.55 PM

CRISPR-Cas9 is efficient compared to previous gene-editing techniques, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. CRISPR is less efficient when employing the cellular process of homology-directed DNA repair, or HDR, as opposed to nonhomologous end joining.  Jacob Corn, the scientific director of the Innovative Genomics Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues have come up with a way to improve the success rate of homology-directed repair following CRISPR-Cas9. “We have found that Cas9-mediated HDR frequencies can be increased by rationally designing the orientation, polarity and length of the donor ssDNA to match the properties of the Cas9-DNA complex,” the researchers wrote in their paper, “We also found that these donor designs, when paired with tiled catalytically inactive dCas9 molecules, can stimulate HDR to approximately 1%, almost 50-fold greater than donor alone.”

“Our data indicate that Cas9 breaks could be different at a molecular level from breaks generated by other targeted nucleases, such as TALENS and zinc-finger nucleases, which suggests that strategies like the ones we are using can give you more efficient repair of Cas9 breaks,” coauthor Christopher Richardson, a postdoc in Corn’s lab, said in a statement.

Original Article:

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/45159/title/More-CRISPR-Improvements/

Other Addtional Helpful Links:

http://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-crispr-cas9

 

CRISPR/Cas9 Provides Promising Treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

There are nine kinds of muscular dystrophy and of these, Duchenne MD is the most common severe form of childhood MD. It affects about 1 in 5000 newborn males, only in very rare cases has it affected females. DMD is a genetic disorder that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Patients usually die by age 30 to 40.

DMD is caused by the absence of a protein, dystrophin, that helps keep muscle cells intact. In 1986 it was discovered that there was a gene on the X chromosome that, when mutated, lead to DMD. Later, researchers discovered that the protein associated with this gene was dystrophin. From this information, we can tell that this disorder is sex-linked, which explains why women are mainly carriers.

No one has found an absolute cure for this genetic disorder until now. Even in recent years, people have discovered treatments that will make patients’ lives more bearable, but never reverse the disorder. As a result of these advances, mostly in cardiac and respiratory care, patients are able to live past teen year and as long as in to their fifties, though this is rare. Although there are still drugs being tested like Vamorolone (a “dissociative steroid,” is an anti-inflammatory compound), more treatments on the molecular level are now being considered. However, thanks to recent discoveries and research with the new genetic technology, CRISPR/ Cas9, scientists may have found a treatment for DMD.

This new approach to gene correction by genome editing has shown promise in studies recently. This particular correction can be achieved in a couple ways: one is by skipping exon 51 of the DMD gene using eterplirsen (a morpholino-based oligonucleotide). Studies over four years show prolonged movement abilities, and a change in the rate of decline compared to controls. The newest approach to gene correction using CRISPR/Cas9, which the article I’m writing about focuses on, was performed in this study as next described: the CRISPR/Cas9 system targets the point mutation in exon 23 of the mdx mouse that creates a premature stop codon and serves as a representative model of DMD. Multiple studies in three separate laboratories have provided a path and laid the groundwork for clinical translation addressing many of the critical questions that have been raised regarding this system. The labs also discovered by further demonstrations, that this is a feasible treatment for humans. Functional recovery was demonstrated in the mice, including grip strength, and improved force generation- all of which are very important and hopeful discoveries. It is estimated from these studies that this new method will pass clinical trials and go on to benefit as many as 80% of DMD sufferers. Even greater success rates are expected if this is performed in young and newborn DMD patients.

Biomedical Engineers paving the way for Immunology

For many years Biomedical Engineers have been attempting to find ways to make precise, efficient, and deliberate changes to the genetic material of living cells. Developments in this field can, not only help to eradicate many genetic diseases but it can also ensure what many scientists call “adaptive immunity”. With their newfound CRISPR – Cas9 technology, they may have found a solution to the problem that has been giving them so much grief

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Adaptive Immunity occurs when a foreign body is recognized specifically for what it is and how it can harm the body. The other form of immune response is the innate response, in which there is a foreign body identified and the immune system sends any type of immune-response cell to general area to kill it. However, in adaptive immunity the body can individually recognize the problem and send exactly what needs to be sent, a much more efficient process.

Moreover, scientists hope that a cell’s ability to perform adaptive immunity will help contribute to eliminating harmful genetic mutations. Researchers hypothesize that, with this newfound technology, cells will be able to identify and respond to invading genetic material from a bacteriophage or invader of any sort. (quite possibly eradicating HIV and all other viruses from the Earth).

The science behind this new genetic-police force is as confusing as it is difficult to say… CRISPR…Cas9… what does any of that even mean?

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regulatory Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats

Cas9 comes from the name of the protein-9 nuclease that scientists first found in Strep (Streptococcus Pyogenes) cells back in 2007 which help the bacteria participate in adaptive immunity.

koli-bacteria-123081_960_720

All in all, its some pretty crazy and extremely complex stuff.

If you do so please, I suggest doing some of your own research on this topic if you have any questions. The opportunities afforded by this breakthrough are endless.

ORIGINAL Article: https://www.neb.com/tools-and-resources/feature-articles/crispr-cas9-and-targeted-genome-editing-a-new-era-in-molecular-biology

This new tropical virus is not as fun as it’s name sounds!!!

Although it may be fun to say, the Zika Virus is no laughing matter.

16735-close-up-of-a-mosquito-feeding-on-blood-pv

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the number of Zika Virus infections has increased to 147 in recent months (only 107 of which are from international travelers from Zika-infected areas). Moreover 117 more cases of Zika were reported from Puerto Rico after the CDC released those aforementioned numbers. The CDC urges that people refrain from traveling to highly infected areas like Puerto Rico and especially Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janero, Brazil is a hotspot for Zika infection through mosquito bites

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janero, Brazil is a hotspot for Zika infection through mosquito bites

 

Zika is spread through the bite of an infected female mosquito (typically of the Aedis Aegipty type) and 80% of the infected showed a variety of the following symptoms: mild fever, skin rash around area of bite and other, conjunctivitis (pink eye), muscle and joint pain that last for approximately 1 week, and fatigue.

 

Now you may be asking yourself, “What’s so dangerous about a virus that sounds like it should be a Pokémon? People get over viruses every day?” Well the answer is not with Zika itself, but rather with what Zika causes.

 

Several studies have emerged that claim Zika is directly connected to Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Microcephaly. Additionally, the PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) claims there is no evidence that Zika can cause death, but there have been several reports of it worsening pre-existing medical conditions.

CDC_map_of_Zika_virus_distribution_as_of_15_January_2016

Areas of Zika Virus infection and density of cases (the darker the purple the more amounts of cases in that area)

Guillain-Barre Syndrome – an extremely rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks the nervous system, systematically destroying it over a long period of time. Although weakness and tingling to extremities are first symptoms, they can quickly spread eventually leading to full-body paralysis. Most people with the rare disease must be immediately hospitalized for rigorous treatment.

 

Microcephaly – a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than average. Most often it can be detected at birth and sometimes avoided with late-stage abortions but recent U.S. laws have prevented such actions. Microcephaly results in abnormally low brain function and development (not growing enough in the womb and not developing at a normal pace after birth.) Children with Microcephaly have severe developmental issues and there is no treatment or cure.

 

Microcephaly can be caused by Zika if a woman contracts the virus in the first and second trimester of the pregnancy. 9 cases of pregnant women contracting Zika have been recorded and of those 9 cases, two women had miscarriages, two women terminated their pregnancies, one woman had a baby with very severe Microcephaly, and most other women contracted the virus in the late stages of the pregnancy and had generally healthy babies

 

In conclusion, if you are a pregnant woman try not to travel to exotic and/or tropical areas where Zika-infected mosquitos usually live.

 

Original Article: http://news.yahoo.com/factbox-why-zika-virus-causing-alarm-202231278.html;_ylt=AwrC1jHwztFW5m0AGIHQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTBydWNmY2MwBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwM0BHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–

You Are What You Eat

8146322408_a76aab3ae2_o

Original Link To Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pnnl/8146322408

It has been known for some time by scientists that variations in food intake lead to various different gut floras.  However, that theory had only been tested on mice…Until now.  Lawrence David, assistant professor at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, led an experiment that resulted in the discovery that different foods not only lead to different bacteria, but the bacteria themselves experience gene variations.  Although the discovery itself is truly amazing, the celerity at which the changes occur is the most impressive.  University of Chicago’s professor of medicine Eugene Chang specializes in gastroenterology originally thought the changes would take months or even years but the study showed that the changes started to take place within a couple of hours.  There were also changes in the amount of bile acid secreted into the stomach and that microorganisms native to cheeses and cured meats were stronger against this.  The real question is “Why is this relevant?”  To Chang, the first is evolutionary.  Ancient humans who experienced rapid dietary changes could successfully switch from nuts and berries to meat with little gastric distress and maximum absorption of nutrients from even the most unrecognizable foods.  The second is the effects of diet on certain diseases.  Chang, who has been leading a research team to discover the connection between  B. wadsworthia and colitis in mice is yet to apply these tendencies to humans.  However, he believes there could be a connection.  His experiments show just how sensitive the body is to dietary change.  Dramatic changes in ones diet could lead to a brief exposure to harmful diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease.  The experiments are difficult to conduct however because according to David, it’s hard to find even 10 people willing to dramatically change their diets for science.

original article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-guts-microbiome-changes-diet/

similar article on the gut micro biome: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290747.php

What a Smelly Solution to a Smelly Predicament!!!!

The newest developments in scientific and medical research have been focused around a rather smelly purpose.

Fecal transplants are all the rage… and yes, it is what is sounds like. A fecal transplant occurs when the feces of a healthy donor are surgically transplanted into the colon of an individual who has various imbalances in the bacterial assortment of their gut. The feces with a healthy bacteria levels pass through the colon of the sick individual, replacing their “bad bacteria” with “good bacteria”, restoring the bacterial balances back to the way they should be.

Poop

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poop.jpeg

You may ask yourself, why can’t you just take some antibiotics to kill the dominating bacteria and even things out?

Well the problem is just that. Bacterial imbalances are usually caused by antibiotic use that kill one type of bacteria and not another, so taking more antibiotics on top of that would just add to the problem.

The transplant of fecal matter is an icky procedure but has shown to cure many more ailments other than JUST bacterial imbalances. Fecal transplants have showed to help various metabolic diseases, neuropsychiatric disorders, autoimmune diseases, allergic disorders, and even tumors.

E coli Ag Res Mag

E. Coli. – one of the most common bacterias in not only your colon, but also your whole body, is a key player in the Fecal Microbiota Transplantation

One specific study of Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) in metabolic syndromes, mixed microbiota from the feces of a lean donor with a sample of unhealthy, self-collected feces. After the mixed feces were then reinserted into the gut, the resultant excrement of the patient displayed increased insulin sensitivity and increased number of healthy butyrate-producing intestinal bacteria. In a sense, the resultant doo doo showed signs of improved health for the patient. Another report of FMT displayed favorable outcomes in abating the effects of:

  • Parkinson’s disease – a progressive disorder of the nervous system that negatively affects movement
  • Multiple Sclerosis – an autoimmune nervous system disease in which the human immune system attacks the central nervous system
  • Myoclonus Dystonia – a nervous and musculoskeletal disorder that results in involuntary and spontaneous muscle twitching and jerking
  • Chronic fatigue Syndrome – a cerebral disorder in which the brain excretes neurotransmitters that transmit the information to feel tired and fatigued. Can be extremely dangerous when mixed with everyday activities such as cooking and driving.
  • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura – a vascular disorder that results in excessive bleeding, internal hemorrhaging, and bruising from low levels of blood platelets.

While many think that poop is simply waste that ought to be disposed of immediately, the beneficial effects that Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) have spread all over the body. From regulating the bacterial levels in the colon, to helping alleviate the symptoms of various autoimmune, vascular, muscular, nervous, and skeletal diseases.

Who would’ve thought that putting poop BACK into the colon would be a healthy thing to do!?!?!

Original Article: http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/22/fmt-film/

Funny, yet extremely informative, animation and additional article: http://www.openbiome.org/about-fmt/

 

ANOTHER new study on Coffee

As students in high school, many of us are familiar with the immediate advantage of drinking coffee which is a decrease in fatigue and increase of alertness. Since I was young, however, I have heard many myths and hypotheses about the bad side effect of coffee, like how it stunts your growth and stains your teeth. I have also heard of other, positive side effect of drinking coffee. Some articles have said that caffeine has some positive effects against some diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimers. Multiple studies and published articles have come up throughout the years on the various side effects of drinking coffee daily and whether or not it is good or bad for you. An article published on sciencenews.org explains the most recent research on this mysterious drink and its long term effects on us humans, while another article argues its bad effects.

This article describes a study and analysis of more than 200,000 professionals followed for almost 30 years. They concluded that drinking up to five cups of either decaf or caffeinated coffee a day has a strong correlation to reduced risk of early death from heart and brain diseases as well as suicide. This study had even accounted for lurking variables such as smoking, weight, and diet. By adjusting for these factors, the scientists discovered that the benefits were more pronounced for non-smokers. They also found that both decaf. and caffeinated coffee were had positive effects. This led the researchers to believe that the powerful components of coffee may stem from chemical compounds in the bean such as diterpenes and chlorogenic acids.

Another article I came across mentioned the known positive, as well as the harmful effects of caffeine. (On a side note, I find it relevant to point out that this article mentioned that studies proving harmful effects of caffeine are harder to find that the reported positive effects. This, I speculate, might have to do a little bit with the fact that people tend to want to hear reassurance on things that will permit them to continue on with habits or actions that might be seen as harmful or bad otherwise.) This website cited studies that were performed by the Mayo Clinic that found that coffee raised blood pressure, increased risk of heart attacks, caused headaches, reduced fertility in women, proved harmful to people with type 2 diabetes, worsened menopause symptoms, increased anxiety, and, most obviously, caused insomnia and more. Some of these correlations, like an increase in headaches due to drinking coffee, can be explained by obvious reasoning: caffeine is a diuretic, and therefore if you aren’t drinking enough water to compensate, your body will produce too much urine and you will become dehydrated which leads to headaches in some cases.

Because of this drug’s popularity, studies after studies have come out presenting new, or sometimes repetitive, information regarding the side effects of drinking coffee. Many people want to believe that it is good for them because they drink it on such a regular basis that if it proved to be very harmful they would be in real trouble. Therefore, people are looking for proof that it is good, so there are more articles, credible and not, showing proof that it is. Additionally, another potential issue with these studies is the amount of caffeine given to the patients. In study one, the subjects were given around 5 cups of coffee a day, which is 2 to 3 more than the average American, and therefore unrepresentative of what Americans actually consume. From this data, I have decided to continue drinking the relatively small amount of coffee I do on a weekly basis, paying attention to how my own body reacts and noting the changes with attention in order to learn more about how it affects me personally, as I feel I am the only reliable source of information to myself at the moment.

Only the Small Survive

Small fish featured in its natural niche

Small fish featured in its natural niche

http://www.pdpics.com/photo/1329-small-green-fish/

With many large species such as giraffes and sharks threatened with extinction, we might not see the likes of them for millions of years.  History has shown that evolution cannot restore large species for tens of millions of years.  Intrigued by this concept, paleontologist Lauren Sallan of the University of Pennsylvania sought to know why small species are able to bounce back much quicker than larger species.  Looking at aquatic life of the Mississippian Period, from 359 to 323 million years ago, she observed that most fish were significantly smaller than their ancestors.  This idea that certain species generally shrink over time is known as the Lilliput Effect, named after an island indigenous to tiny people in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.  The fossils used in Dr. Sallan’s project fit this description as their ancestors probably perished perished in the deep freeze brought on at the end of the Devonian Period which wiped out an estimated 96 percent of all vertebrates.  However, the Lilliput Effect does not apply to all species.  One species, known as the rhizodontids, included fish that grew to the size of modern day killer whales.  Dr. Sallan concluded that the painfully slow recovery of large species on this planet is due to the ecosystems decimation during mass extinction events.  Although this particular article does not go into depth on why small animals have an easier time “bouncing back” than large ones, Dr. Sallan examined many fossils which prove that creatures shrank dramatically after large-scaled extinctions.  For example, the average size of a shark shrank from about a yard in length to only a mere few inches.  However, later in the article, Dr. Sallan cites her study by saying how smaller vertebrate species produce and diversify more easily contrary to large vertebrate animals dwindling in diversity until species extinction.

Original Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/13/science/after-a-mass-extinction-only-the-small-survive.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fscience&action=click&contentCollection=science&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=1

Other Interesting Articles:http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/prehistoric-world/mass-extinction/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/dustbowl-mass-exodus-plains/

HUMANS ON MARS!?!?!?!?!?

For many years people have known that there is water on mars, in its solid state at least. Furthermore, Mars’ extremely thin atmosphere has served to preserve the various topographical grooves that prove that there was ONCE liquid water on mars and that it flowed quite freely.

PIA16150_fig1-Mars_Curiosity_Rover-Glenelg_Terrain

What piqued scientists’ interest was the discovery just a few months ago that some of these grooves, the smaller ones usually only 5 meters wide, would appear during Mars’ warm season, grow several hundred meters long, and then disappear when the climate turned cold. Additionally, the streaks often showed up on steep slopes and looked very similar to images of water flowing downhill on Earth’s surface.

Field erosion 01

The anomalous nature of these ephemeral grooves compared to the extremely wide ancient river pattern on Mars’ surface, led researchers to further investigate these sites.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) now equipped a new instrument used for the spectroscopic detection of minerals, meaning that it carefully takes pictures of the surface of an object in various wavelengths of light (x-ray, ultraviolet, etc.) in order to reveal higher levels of specific compounds and minerals, was the exact instrument for the job. In this specific case, researchers used the MRO to scan for salt in the unusual streaks.

Why Salt?

I’m glad you asked… Scientists have decided that, based on Mars’ surface samples, any salts on Mars’ surface must be magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate, and/or sodium perchlorate; all of which are minerals that suggest that water could’ve been absorbed into the soil* from the atmosphere, via deliquescence, or from below the surface in an aquifer. When the MRO detected those salts and perchlorates in the streaks it was a definitive “Yes” to the question of, “Is there still LIQUID water on Mars?”

Internal_Structure_of_Pluto

A hypothetical artist’s rendering of how big the aquifer could be on Mars. The Mars rover failed to detect the buried water because it was both extremely deep, and covered by a thick layer of frozen nitrogen.

The significance of liquid water on Mars is that, in the event that human’s travel to Mars, they would be able to begin growing plants. Plants that would not only provide them with food but also the most necessary commodity humans need to survive, oxygen. Plants need four main ingredients to survive: water, sunlight, nutrients from the soil and carbon dioxide. Up until this point, water had been the only missing piece to the puzzle, as Mars’ atmosphere is almost 95% carbon dioxide and is so thin (about 100 times thinner than that of Earth) it obstructs very little solar radiation [sunlight].

Equipped with my Celestron Powerseeker, my family and I took every opportunity we could to look into the depths of space, or at least the depths of our celestial neighborhood. We watched intently as the full lunar eclipse and the blood moon converged overhead. We spectated as the ISS sped across the sky in about 30 minutes on a cloudless night. When I first saw on Yahoo News that NASA had confirmed that there was liquid water on Mars, I was both excited at the new discovery and puzzled as to why everyone was so excited… anyone who has seen a picture of the planet already knew that Mars has water in the form of ice at it poles. Overall, my fascination with space led me to topics such as these. Although hundreds of questions were answered for me, many still remain:

Will NASA attempt to send humans to Mars? If so, when and where can I buy my ticket?

Will further studies find living organisms such as bacteria and protists in these water-streaks?

How big is the aquifer that the streaks could’ve originated from?

Will NASA attempt to establish a colony in Mars? If so, will the first infants born on Mars be considered “Martians”?

*soil being a relative term for the matter on the surface of Mars

http://news.sciencemag.org/space/2015/09/dark-streaks-mars-are-definitely-wet-nasa-says

https://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/march/nasa-research-suggests-mars-once-had-more-water-than-earth-s-arctic-ocean

For Cool Images of Mars’ Water Streaks see

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/jaw-dropping-images-us-first-211104638.html

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