BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: science (Page 1 of 2)

CRISPR Gene Editing: The Future of Food?

Biology class has taught me a lot about genes and DNA – I know genes code for certain traits, DNA is the code that makes up genes, and that genes are found on chromosomes. I could even tell two parents, with enough information, the probabilities of different eye colors in their children! However, even with all this information, when I first heard “gene editing technology,” I thought, “parents editing what their children will look like,” and while this may be encapsulated in the CRISPR gene editing technology, it is far from its purpose! So, if you’re like me when I first started my CRISPR research, you have a lot to learn! Let’s dive right in!

CRISPR

Firstly, what is CRISPR Gene Editing? It is a genetic engineering technique that “edits genes by precisely cutting DNA and then letting natural DNA repair processes to take over” (http://www.crisprtx.com/gene-editing/crispr-cas9).  Depending on the cut of DNA, three different genetic edits can occur: if a single cut in the DNA is made, a gene can be inactivated; if two separate DNA sites are cut, the middle part of DNA will be deleted, and the separate cuts will join together; and if the same two separate pieces of DNA are cut, but a DNA template is added, the middle part of DNA that would have been deleted can either be corrected or completely replaced. This technology allows for endless possibilities of advancements, from reducing toxic protein to fighting cancer, due to the countless ways it can be applied. Check out this link for some other incredible ways to apply CRISPR technology!

In this blog post however, we will focus on my favorite topic, food! Just a few months ago, the first CRISPR gene-edited food went on the market! In Japan, Sicilian Rouge tomatoes are now being sold after the Tokyo-based company, Sanatech Seed, edited them to contain an increased amount of y-aminobutyric acid (GABA). “GABA is an amino acid and neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/crispr-edited-tomatoes-are-supposed-to-help-you-chill-out/). It supposedly (there is scarce scientific evidence of its role as a health supplement) lowers blood pressure and promotes relaxation. In the past, bioengineers have used CRISPR technology to “develop non-browning mushrooms, drought-tolerant soybeans and a host of other creative traits in plants,” but this is the first time the creation is being sold to consumers on the market (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/crispr-edited-tomatoes-are-supposed-to-help-you-chill-out/)!

Tomatoes

So, how did Sanatech Seed do it? They took the gene editing approach of disabling a gene with the first method described above, making a single cut in the DNA. By doing so, Sanatech’s researchers inactivated the gene that “encodes calmodulin-binding domain (CaMBD)” in order to increase the “activity of the enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase, which catalyzes the decarboxylation of glutamate to GABA, thus raising levels of the molecule” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/crispr-edited-tomatoes-are-supposed-to-help-you-chill-out/). These may seem like big words, but we know from biology that enzymes speed up reactions and decarboxylation is the removal of carbon dioxide from organic acids so you are already familiar with most of the vocabulary! Essentially, bioengineers made a single cut in DNA inside of the GABA shunt (a metabolic pathway) using CRISPR technology. They were therefore able to disable the gene that encodes the protein CaMBD, and by disabling this gene a certain enzyme (glutamic acid decarboxylase) that helps create GABA from glutamate, was stimulated. Thus, more activity of the enzyme that catalyzes the reaction of glutamate to GABA means more GABA! If you are still a little confused, check out this article to read more about how glutamate becomes GABA which will help you better understand this whole process – I know it can be hard to grasp!

After reading all of this research, I am sure you are wondering if you will soon see more CRISPR-edited food come onto the market! The answer is, it depends on where you are asking from! Bioengineered crops are already hard to sell – many countries have regulations against such food and restrictions about what traits can actually be altered in food. Currently, there are some nutritionally enhanced food on the market like soybeans and canola, and many genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but no other genome-edited ones! The US, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia have “repeatedly ruled that genome-edited crops fall outside of its purview” and “Europe has essentially banned genome-edited foods” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/crispr-edited-tomatoes-are-supposed-to-help-you-chill-out/). However, if you are in Japan, where the tomatoes are currently being sold, expect to see many more genome edited foods! I know I am now hoping to take a trip to Japan soon!

Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions, please ask them below!

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions: The Making and Breaking of Habits

What is a habit? A habit is “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance“ (Merriam-Webster). With this being the second month of 2022, New Year’s Resolutions are still in many people’s minds. February is statistically the time when individuals give up on their life-changing aspirations that the new-year inspired, “virtually every study tells us that around 80% of New Year’s resolutions will get abandoned around this month” (This Is The Month When New Year’s Resolutions Fail—Here’s How To Save Them). The “new year, new me” mindset is beginning to seem a little too hard to accomplish. If we can create habits that contribute to our new year’s resolutions, maybe they won’t seem so difficult. So, how can we make these resolutions into good habits and break existing bad ones?

New Years Resolutions

Habits are created through associative learning. Essentially, as you repeat a certain behavior in the same context, it becomes an automatic response rather than a thought-out action and that is when it is a habit. When this switch happens, that behavior/action moves from the intentional mind to the habitual mind. So, if we can intentionally make certain changes as a part of a resolution, we will eventually do them without thinking and maybe accomplish a resolution! 

Brain

Now, let’s look at some interesting science involved in the study of habits! Specifically, the dorsolateral striatum. This is a part of the brain that “experiences a short burst of activity” as the brain begins to create a new habit (Revving habits up and down, new insight into how the brain forms habits). As a habit becomes stronger and harder to break, this burst also intensifies. This was proved in an MIT study where rats were taught how to run in a maze and received a sugar pellet reward at the end. As we have learned in biology, neurons are nerve cells that send and receive signals. In fact, we know all about how these signals are transmitted! In this study, using optogenetics, scientists controlled the neurons in the dorsolateral striatum with light. “A flashing blue light excites the brain cells while a flashing yellow light inhibits the cells and shuts them down” (Science Daily). As the rats were running through the maze, if the neurons were excited, they ran faster and habitually, whereas when the flashing yellow light inhibited the cells, the rats slowed down and no longer knew where to go, making wrong turn after wrong turn. Senior author of the study Kyle S. Smith said, “Our findings illustrate how habits can be controlled in a tiny time window when they are first set in motion. The strength of the brain activity in this window determines whether the full behavior becomes a habit or not”. This shows us, it is fairly easy to form habits if you continue it repeatedly as the action first begins! While this can be good or bad, with the other information you will learn in this blog post, I hope that this is encouraging! 

In a recent study rewards were also shown to help form habits. This study explored how giving individuals in India a reward for washing their hands before dinner created good hand washing habits. “The study involved 2,943 households in 105 villages in the state of West Bengal between August 2015 and March 2017. All participants had access to soap and water. Nearly 80 percent said they knew soap killed germs, but initially only 14 percent reported using soap before eating” (Small bribes may help people build healthy handwashing habits). These households were divided into groups. Those that received a reward for washing their hands before dinner did 62% of the time, whereas those who did not receive a reward only washed their hands 36% of the time. This is a big difference! “Significantly, good habits lingered even after researchers stopped giving out rewards” (Small bribes may help people build healthy handwashing habits). Rewards helped create the habit, but once the habit was formed, it was automatic and even without the reward, the habit still took place! Now you may be wondering, why is this information relevant? Well, reward yourself! If your goal is to do one pull-up everyday, give yourself a piece of chocolate every time you do it and eventually you will not need any chocolate! 

So, based on this information, how can we break bad habits? First off, go to a new environment. Due to the fact that habits form from repeated behaviors in the same context, by changing our surroundings, it is much easier to not participate in that behavior. Secondly, repeat a new, replacement behavior over and over. For example, if your goal is to eat less pears, make it a habit to reach for an apple every time you walk into the kitchen. As we know, repetition forms habits! Lastly, keep this new environment and action consistent – don’t start reaching for a banana every time you get home if you have been reaching for an apple when you walk into the kitchen. In order to form a habit it is critical to repeat a certain behavior in the same context. 

Now, we can now create good habits and break the old bad ones! With this information, make this the year that you actually follow through on your new year’s resolutions! Don’t let this month stop you. You have the knowledge and resources, get to it! New year, new you! Good luck! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below!

New Years Resolution

How are new COVID variants identified?

COVID variants are of high concern for scientists studying the disease. Some variants can be more infectious or cause more severe illness. Additionally, some variants can evade vaccines by having different surface proteins than the variant the vaccine was created for. This causes the antibodies produced from the vaccine to be less effective against other variants. In AP Biology class we discussed how the Delta Variant, first identified in December 2020, has a different spike protein structure than the original virus from which the vaccine was created from. This allows the variant to be more infectious, and make the vaccine less effective against it. But, what are COVID variants? And how are they discovered? Hand with surgical latex gloves holding Coronavirus and A Variant of Concern text

COVID variants are “versions” of the virus with a different genetic code than the original one discovered. However, not every mutation leads to a new variant. This is because the genetic code of the virus codes for proteins. Some mutations will not change the structure of the protein and thus not change the virus. So, COVID variants can be defined as versions of the virus with a significantly different genetic code than the original virus.

To detect new COVID variants, scientists sequence the genetic code of virus which appears in positive COVID tests. Scientists look at the similarity of the genetic sequences they find. Then, if many of the sequences they get look very similar to each other, but different to any other known virus, a variant has been discovered.

To sequence the RNA of the virus, scientists use what is called Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). To understand how NGS works, it is best to start with what is called Sanger Sequencing. Sanger Sequencing utilizes a modified PCR reaction called chain-termination PCR to generate DNA or RNA fragments of varying length. The ending nucleotide of each sequence is called a ddNTP, which contains a florescent die corresponding to the type of nucleotide. The addition of a ddNTP also terminates the copying of the particular sequence. The goal of this PCR reaction is to generate a fragment of every length from the start to the end of the sequence. The sequences can then be sorted by length using a specialized form of gel electrophoresis. The sequence is then read by using a laser to check the color of the fluorescent die at the end of each sequence. Based on the color and size, the nucleotide at that position of the genomic sequence can be found.

Sanger Sequencing Example

The difference with NGS is that many sequences can be done in parallel, allowing for very high throughput. In other words, with NGS many COVID tests can be sequenced in once.

The COVID-19 Vaccine: How, What, and Why

We have all seen the news lately – COVID, COVID, and more COVID! Should people get the vaccine? What about the booster shot? Are vaccines more harmful than COVID-19? Will my child have birth-defects? This blog post will (hopefully) answer most of your questions and clear up a very confusing topic of discussion!

Discovery of monoclonal antibodies that inhibit new coronavirus(Wuhan virus)

First off, what are some potential effects of COVID-19? They include, but are certainly not limited to, shortness of breath, joint pain, chest pain, loss of taste, fever, organ damage, blood clots, blood vessel problems, memory loss, hearing loss tinnitus, anosmia, attention disorder, and the list goes on. So, our next question naturally is: what are the common effects of the COVID-19 Vaccine? On the arm that an individual receives the vaccine the symptoms include pain, redness, and swelling. Throughout the body, tiredness, a headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea can be experienced. To me, these effects seem much less severe than COVID-19’s!

COVID-19 immunizations begin

Now that we have covered effects, you are probably wondering what exactly the COVID-19 Vaccine does – will it make it impossible for me to get COVID-19? Will I have superpowers? Well, you may not get superpowers, but your cells will certainly have a new weapon, which we will discuss in the next paragraph! The COVID-19 Vaccine reduces “the risk of COVID-19, including severe illness by 90 percent or more among people who are fully vaccinated,” reduces the overall spread of disease, and can “also provide protection against COVID-19 infections without symptoms” (asymptomatic cases) (Covid-19 Vaccines Work).

So, how does the vaccine work? Many people think that all vaccines send a small part of the disease into us so our cells learn how to fight it at a smaller scale. However, this is not the case with the COVID-19 vaccine! As we learned in biology class, COVID-19 Vaccines are mRNA vaccines which use mRNA (genetic material that tells our cells to produce proteins) wrapped in a layer of fat to attach to cells. This bubble of fat wrapped mRNA enters a dendritic cell through phagocytosis. Once inside of the cell, the fat falls off the mRNA and the strand is read by ribosomes (a protein maker) in the cytoplasm. A dendritic cell is a special part of the immune system because it is able to display epitopes on MHC proteins on its surface.

Corona-Virus

After being made by the ribosomes, pieces of the viral surface protein are displayed on the surface of the dendritic cell (specifically the MHC protein), and the cell travels to lymph nodes to show this surface protein. At the lymph nodes, it shows the epitope to other cells of the immune system including T-Helper Cells. The T-Helper Cells see what they’re dealing with and create an individualized response which they relay to T-Killer cells that attack and kill virus-infected cells. This individualized response is also stored in T-Memory cells so that if you do end up getting COVID-19, your body will already know how to fight it! The T-Helper Cells additionally gather B-Plasma cells to make antibodies that will keep COVID-19 from ever entering your cells. T-Helper Cells are amazing! As you can see, the vaccine never enters your nucleus, so it cannot effect your DNA! No birth-defects are possible!

You are now equipped with so much information and able to disregard many common misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccine! Additionally, you can make an educated decision about whether or not you should get the vaccine. I think yes! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment them and I will answer. Thanks for reading!

 

LONG COVID

After the long sufferable weeks from catching COVID-19, you would think you are in the clear; until, that is, you feel some extra “health-issues”. The term for these health issues, specifically after COVID-19, are called Long Covid (post-covid). Generally “one in two [covid recovered people] experienced long-term COVID manifestations” and the symptoms included are a diverse field of sickness. Penn State investigators mentioned the trend of symptoms from 250,351 unvaccinated adults and children:

Loss of General Well Being (weight loss, fevers, fatigue)

Decreased Mobility (1 in 5 experienced a decrease in mobility)

Concentration Issues

Lung abnormalities (6 in 10 survivors tight chests and a quarter of patients had difficulty breathing)

Digestive Issues

What could be the reason that COVID-19 is still lurking around in our bodies when the sickness is gone? Researchers at Yale University studying long-COVID have found a pattern of patients having an “unusual level of cytokines” also known as a cytokine storm. Cytokines are a secreted chemical proteins released by cells for communication. In the Immune System process, after a Macrophage, large phagocytic cells, ingests an antigen it releases cytokines, signaling for a t-helper cell to come. After the helper t-cell recognizes the antigen, more cytokines are released and trigger the Cell-Mediated and Humoral Responses (B and T cells). I mention all this because researchers are saying that post-covid patients tend to have patterns of irregular, more-than average cytokines being produced as well as an “unusual pattern of activity by…t cells. The greater than average amount of cytokines suggests a “state of chronic inflammation” and “kill tissues and damage organs.” The unusual activity of t-cells suggests that COVID-19 could still be lurking in the body.

Cytokine Release

Cytokine release and the numerous amounts of it

The treatment for these conditions are mostly to take the vaccine but there are still many unknowns to this Long-Covid problem. These problems are mostly lying in the Immune System rather than other parts of the body that can be tested with machines; which is why solving this problem is very difficult. This problem can only be solved by a matter of time and hope the scientists can figure this out.

 

The Importance of Gut Health: How to Live Long and Be Happy

Gut health – why is it so important? I had always thought that the concept of good gut health was a myth and only lived on the side of a bottle of Kombucha. I could not have been more incorrect!Kombucha, Health-Ade,

It turns out that a happy gut is critical to live a long, happy, and healthy life! The gut, also known as the digestive tract or gastrointestinal track, includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, colon, and rectum. Therefore, it processes all of the nutrients you take in, fights diseases, serves as a center for communication, and produces hormones. These are all critical tasks that affect your everyday well-being!

202004 Gut microbiota

When thinking about gut health, scientists are usually referring to the gut microbiome. In short, the gut microbiome is all of the microbiomes in your intestines. Humans would have a very hard time surviving without the gut microbiome. It digests breast milk when babies are first born, controls the immune system, digests fiber, and even helps control brain health. In fact, a recent study done with mice suggests that gut health affects social interaction/behaviors, stress, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder. Additionally, in 2011 another study was done with mice, which involved antibiotics killing “bad” gut bacteria, also known as, gut flora. These mice became scientifically less anxious after killing the gut flora and “showed [positive] changes in their brain chemistry that have been linked to depression”  according to Live Science.

Gut flora is not the same for everyone. Another study done with gut flora showed that obese individuals tend to have less diversity in their gut flora when compared to lean individuals. This difference is because of an increase in Firmicutes and decrease of Bacteroidetes in obese individuals. Gut flora also affects an individual’s metabolism because of its affects on the breakdown of a key organic compound we have learned about in biology, carbohydrates. As we know, carbohydrates provide energy for the body which is imperative for all individuals. Another subject we have discussed in our class, amino acids, can have an increase in production because of gut flora (Live Science).

Now, you may be wondering, “how can I keep my gut happy?” The key to a healthy gut comes from diet. After an extensive amount of research, here are some tips I have gathered and why they work:

  1. Eat a variety of foods – to keep your microbiome diverse (recommended to eat specifically a variety of fruits and vegetables for fiber, vitamins, and minerals)
    Fresh fruits and vegetables in 2020 06
  2. Eat fermented foods (ex. yogurt, kefir, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut) – it “can reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut” (Healthline)Vegan yogurt, March 2012
  3. Eat nuts, seeds, and legumes for fiber and proteinNuts on Spice Bazaar in Istanbul 01
  4. Eat whole grains for dietary fiberHome made whole grain bread
  5. Eat prebiotic foods (ex. bananas, artichokes, apples, asparagus, oats, flax seeds, garlic, onions, broccoli) – to “help boost the population and diversity of good bacteria” (Orlando Health)29 Nov 2011 - Apples and BananasThree Onion in Peng Chau
  6. Limit antibiotics – they kill both good and bad bacteria in the gut, which decreases necessary varietyAntibiotic pills
  7. Take a probiotic supplement – it “can help restore the gut to a healthy state after dysbiosis” (Healthline)Red and blue pill

These are all relatively small changes for the huge benefits that they reap. Start incorporating them today to improve your gut health and live a longer, happier, and overall healthier life!

 

Mutation in the Nation

We constantly think of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as a single virus, one enemy that we all need to work together to fight against. However, the reality of the situation is the SARS-CoV-2, like many other viruses, is constantly mutating. Throughout the last year, over 100,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes have been studied by scientists around the globe. And while when we hear the word mutation, we imagine a major change to how an organism functions, a mutation is just a change in the genome. The changes normally change little to nothing about how the actual virus functions. While the changes are happening all the time since the virus is always replicating, two viruses from anywhere in the world normally only differ by 10 letters in the genome. This means that the virus we called SARS-CoV-2 is not actually one species, but is a quasi-species of several different genetic variants of the original Wuhan-1 genome.

The most notable mutation that has occurred in SARS-CoV-2 swapped a single amino acid in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This caused SARS-CoV-2 to become significantly more infective, but not more severe. It has caused the R0 of the virus, the number of people an infected person will spread to, to go up. This value is a key number in determining how many people will be infected during an outbreak, and what measures must be taken to mitigate the spread. This mutation is now found in 80% of SARS-CoV-2 genomes, making it the most common mutation in every infection.

Glycoproteins are proteins that have an oligosaccharide chain connect to them. They serve a number of purposes in a wide variety of organisms, one of the main ones being the ability to identify cells of the same organism.  The spike protein is a glycoprotein that is found on the phospholipid bilayer of SARS-CoV-2 and it is the main tool utilized in infecting the body. The spike protein is used to bind to host cells, so the bilayers of the virus fuse with the cell, injecting the virus’s genetic material into the cell. This is why a mutation that makes the spike protein more efficient in binding to host cells can be so detrimental to stopping the virus.

In my opinion, I find mutations to be fascinating and terrifying. The idea that the change of one letter in the sequence of 30,000 letters in the SARS-CoV-2 genome can have a drastic effect on how the virus works is awfully daunting. However, SARS-CoV-2 is mutating fairly slowly in comparison to other viruses, and with vaccines rolling out, these mutations start to seem much less scary by the day.

 

Do Birds Think Like Us?

Contrary to popular belief, a bird’s brain is indeed intelligent. Pigeons are able to identify the painting of Picasso and Monet, with training and ravens are able to identify themselves in a mirror. For a long time, it was believed that bird brains are not complex, however, according to an article from Scientific American, recently it has been discovered that bird brains have many similarities to the brains of mammals. 

The neocortex is the outer layer of the brain that allows cognition and creativity, in mammals. Although the brains of birds hold a different shape, new research can compare their structure to the neocortex in mammals. It is found that the layout of the brain is similar to humans, explaining their advanced behavior and abilities. Originally, it was believed that avian brains were a  group of neurons located in a region known as DVR, and an individual nucleus called the wulst, whereas mammal brains consist of six layers with columns of neurons that transfer information horizontally and vertically. These clusters of neurons, each contained a nucleus which ultimately allows for the production of proteins in the cell. However, In a study done by, senior author Onur Güntürkün, a neuroscientist at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, along with his colleagues they discovered that, ”in both pigeons and barn owls, these brain regions are constructed much like our neocortex, with both layerlike and columnar organization—and with both horizontal and vertical circuitry” (Stetka). This research rejects the once accepted understanding of avian brains. Additionally, “We can now claim that this layered, corticallike organization is indeed a feature of the whole sensory forebrain in most, if not all, birds,” says Martin Stacho, co-lead author of the study and Güntürkün’s colleague at Ruhr University Bochum. Ultimately, it is confirmed that the DVR of avion brains is related to the cortex of mammal brain, thus explaining many of birds unique abilities. Although this theory was suggested by Harvey Karten in the 60s, it was not supported, but new this research credits Kartens hypothesis

This new discovery raises more questions of the possibility of sensory consciousness in avian brains and ancient animal brain evolution. The latest common ancestor of birds and mammals are reptiles, from 320 million years ago, and its brain is believed, “it wasn’t like the neocortex or the DVR. It was probably something in between that, in mammals, developed a six-layered neocortex and, in birds, to the wulst and DVR”, said Martin Stacho.

 

With the current discoveries on bird brains, new possibilities are being researched and many scientist are realizing that our brains may hold more similarities to different animals than previously believed.

 

 

Is Air Pollution Exposure In Childhood Linked To Schizophrenia?

Research has shown that pollution affects physical health, but does air pollution also affect our psychological health? A study, which combines genetic data from iPSYCH with air pollution data from the Department of Environmental Science, reveals that children who are exposed to a high level of air pollution while growing up have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia.

“The study shows that the higher the level of air pollution, the higher the risk of schizophrenia. For each 10 ?g/m3 (concentration of air pollution per cubic metre) increase in the daily average, the risk of schizophrenia increases by approximately twenty per cent. Children who are exposed to an average daily level above 25 ?g/m3 have an approx. sixty per cent greater risk of developing schizophrenia compared to those who are exposed to less than 10 ?g/m3,” explains Senior Researcher Henriette Thisted Horsdal, who is behind the study.

To put this research into perspective, the lifetime risk of developing schizophrenia is approximately two percent, which is equal to two out of a hundred people developing schizophrenia in one’s life. For people exposed to the lowest level of air pollution, the lifetime risk is just under two percent. The lifetime risk for people exposed to the highest level of air pollution is approximately three percent.

“The risk of developing schizophrenia is also higher if you have a higher genetic liability for the disease. Our data shows that these associations are independent of each other. The association between air pollution and schizophrenia cannot be explained by a higher genetic liability in people who grow up in areas with high levels of air pollution,” says Henriette Thisted Horsdal about the study, which is the first of its kind to combine air pollution and genetics in relation to the risk of developing schizophrenia.

The study included 23,355 people in total. Out of those people, 3,531 developed schizophrenia. Through the results of this research one can see that there is an increased risk of schizophrenia when the level of air pollution during childhood increases; however, the researches cannot comment on the cause. Instead, the researched emphasize that further studies are needed before they can identify the cause of this association.

Schizophrenia is thought to mainly be a result of genetics, brain chemistry, substance use, and exposure to viruses or malnutrition before birth. So, I think it is very interesting that exposure to air pollution during childhood may be a cause as well. Additionally, I hope that these findings and further studies become very useful to schizophrenia research and prevention, as schizophrenia is a very serious mental illness and there is no cure.

 

Forbidden Baby Editing

We all at this point in life have come to know what gene editing is. The technology for it is slowly and forever becoming more and more advanced. The scary thing about editing genes is the fact that we have to potentially affect a baby’s life their entire time alive. It has many different problems which is why its going to take a long time for it to fully get approved in the hospital.

Well unfortunately in an article found here there was a fright to figure out that someone had actually edited the genomes of some babies without people knowing. Many scientists condemned scientist He Jianku as it came to light that he had done something that the science was not ready for yet. He used CRISPR Cas9 tech in order to alter some genes of a few babies. The definition of CRISPR is here but basically it is a general tech to edit the genomes of babies that haven’t been born yet. People were up in arms about the process because he had bypassed the ethical laws and needed up editing the genes of a real live human. People in the science community go on to say that the CRISPR technology just isn’t ready to be executed on a human. There needs to be many more trials before it is used on a person for real. There is progress to make sure this doesn’t happen such as fines and bans from research however they are trying to make sure that it doesn’t happen at all. It gives scientists a bad name and he is trying his best to not let that happen. Technology will always advance and the hard part is trying to make sure that tech is ethical. Hopefully this gives insight to how we can prevent things like this happening in this day and age

How are ocean conditions harming its animals?

A recent article written by Rachel Nuwer discusses the dangers of ocean acidification and how the ocean environment could compromise the fishes’ ability to swim and feed. The existence of one of the world’s most threatening predators is being threatened by ocean warming and acidification. Sharks might lose their place at the top of the marine food chain due to the changing ocean environment. As carbon dioxide levels rise in the ocean, it increases the acidity of the water. As this factor starts to rise, the teeth and scales of sharks may begin to damage, which compromises their ability to swim, hunt, and feed. According to research published in Scientific Reports, acid-base adjustments have proved to be the first piece of evidence of “dentical corrosion” caused by ocean acidification conditions. After investigating the impact of hypercapnia on a specific shark species and analyzing the acid-based regulation, the team concluded that the denticle corrosion could increase denticle turnover and compromise the skin and protection of the shark species.

A close up on the denticles and scales of a wild shark

The harsh conditions placed on the sharks could cause several consequences and ultimately could affect the whole ocean community. Biologist Lutz Auerswalk states that sharks could be displaced as apex predators, which could disrupt the whole food chain. In addition, great white sharks are already endangered, and these conditions could wipe them out completely, he states. Ocean research Sarika Singh and Auerswald, while studying over beers, stumbled upon a unique idea. After realizing that the high acidity of beet and many other carbonated beverages causes human teeth to erode, they wondered what effect more acidic ocean water might have on shark teeth.

Most studies on ocean acidification examine species that specifically build shells or other calcium-based structures, including corals and shellfish. Because sharks are large and challenging to work with, only a few studies have been conducted about how acidification might impact these animals. Only one paper has examined the effect of pH on sharks’ skin denticles or scales. The study used small-spotted catsharks and exposed them to different environments and filmed their swimming patterns. After analyzing a pectoral fin skin sample, they did not find a specific impact. However, the results were possible constrained by the low carbon dioxide concentration the researches used, compared with the high levels of acidity already present in many oceans.

To begin exploring this question for themselves, Auerswald and Singh conducted an experiment and focused on puff adder shy sharks, a small species that is easy to handle. They decided to investigate the acidification effects on the bigger scales. They divided the sharks into control and experimental groups and observed the results. After a few months, the electron-microscope analysis revealed that the concentrations of calcium and phosphate in the sharks’ denticles were significantly reduced. They noticed damaged scales on many of the sharks as well. Though the corroded scales might not impact their ability to hunt, for larger species such as the great white shark, scales play an essential role in hydrodynamics. Because denticles are responsible for an increase in swimming speed, damaged denticles could slow sharks down and make it more difficult for them to catch prey. Because many animals have been wiped out, we must strive to protect all the species that are deeply impacted by this condition.

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.

 

 

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