Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Connor Barrett
AP Bio
Current Event

Davenport, Coral. "Trump Signs Executive Order Unwinding Obama Climate Policies." The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Mar. 2017. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

President Trump recently signed an executive order that rolled back Obama’s climate change legacy. He hopes to restore energy independence and gain back lost coal jobs. Experts claim that if the Trump order is carried through it will be almost impossible for the country to meet the requirements it agreed to under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The goal is to decrease dependence on foreign oil and bring back coal jobs. The issue is that many of the mines that are reopening are going to be highly mechanized and not all of the original jobs will return. Trump has ordered a recalculation of the social cost of carbon in an effort to increase the amount of carbon dioxide that can be released and still be economically beneficial for the country. Trump’s executive order is going to worsen climate change and affect the course of the world and the country.
This paragraph is extremely relevant as climate change affects everyone and the decision to combat it is an important one. By choosing to reverse Obama’s progress in fighting climate change Trump has endangered the future of the world and the country. It is important that scientific research regarding climate change is continued and the important facts about what needs to be done in order to prevent climate disasters are expressed to the right people.

The article did a good job of explaining the provisions of Trump’s executive order and how it affects the changes Obama made to American climate policy. The article could have been written in a way that was a little less dry and more interesting however. Overall it was interesting and informative and explained some very important information.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Connor Barrett
AP Bio
Current Event

Harmon, Amy. "Human Gene Editing Receives Science Panel's Support." The New York Times.
The New York Times, 14 Feb. 2017. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine recently approved support for modifications to human embryos to create genetic traits that can be passed down to future generations. This area of research has previously been thought of as an ethical disaster because it opens the door for genetic variations that could increase intelligence or allow for specialization of some humans. The group said that they support alterations if it prevents serious disease and disability and if there is no other treatment options. This could allow for people to have biological children without the fear of passing on diseases such as Huntington’s, Tay-Sachs, etc. The change in opinion has come from developments in the techniques and tools scientists have in examining and decoding the human genome in the last few years. This still raises many ethical questions and many assume that if any form of genetic alteration is allowed, eventually anything will be fair game.
The information that this article explains is critical for the future of medicine and science as the public, scientists, and lawmakers will have to debate what should be done about this topic sooner than later. If genetic alterations are allowed then society may be changed dramatically because it is more than likely that alterations will be expensive. This means that alterations that give people significant genetic advantages may only be accessible to the super rich. I believe that any genetic alterations should be made illegal immediately as to prevent future ethical complications.
Amy Harmon did a very good job of explaining this topic. She used just the right amount of detail and scientific jargon so that the information could be conveyed properly and understood easily. I would have like it if she had spent more time discussing the exact technological advancements that this field has seen in the past few years.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Connor Barrett
AP Bio
Current Event

Angier, Natalie. "A Family’s Shared Defect Sheds Light on the Human Genome." New
York Times. Web.

I decided to read Natalie Angier’s "A Family’s Shared Defect Sheds Light on the Human Genome." which was published in the New York Times. The article describes the interesting insight into genetics that a family history of syndactyly provided to doctors and scientists. Syndactyly is a congenital deformity in which the thumb and forefinger are fused together on either one or both hands. The deformity has been extremely prevalent in one family, which the article is based on, with ten members of the extended family all having the defect. The family has agreed to be part of a study, under the promise of anonymity, to look into the cause and possible prevention methods of limb malformations. These types of mutations affect a newly discovered feature of DNA called topologically associated domains, or TADs. Scientists have discovered that the human genome is divvied up into regions, these TADs, and when the TAD divisions are broken the genome becomes confused and mistakes like syndactyly occur. By dividing chromatin, labeling it, and then allowing it to reassemble, researchers have discovered that there are over 2,000 of these TADs and they serve as the folding boundaries for DNA. The TADs also keep genes and regulatory proteins focused in their own neighborhood and separate from others. The TAD boundaries appear to be made up of Nucleic sequences that attract circular proteins called cohesin and CTCF. Scientist’s understanding of TADs are just one more step towards complete understanding of the human genome, a far away goal but one that is coming closer and closer.
The research that this article discusses is extremely relevant to everyone, because it pertains to the human genome. Research into DNA and the way it operates can be very beneficial to people who suffer from genetic diseases. The discovery of TADs and the understanding of the way the work bring us closer to understanding all of the causes of health issues like cancer and congenital diseases. The more we understand about the way TADs work the better doctors and scientists can treat issues that arise with them. Treating ailments at the genetic level is the next step of medicine and small steps like the discovery of TADs contribute greatly.

I found the article to be very well written. The use of the family’s genetic issues as an example as well as the description of many studies and biological phenomenon were helpful and informative. The language was extremely descriptive but not difficult to understand and the many metaphors and similes worked well to clarify exactly what the author and scientists were saying. One thing I wished the author had done is tie the story of the family back in to the end of the article to better wrap up the article. Overall it was well written and I learned something very interesting and helpful.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Connor Barrett
AP Bio
Current Event 9

Fackler, Martin. "Space’s Trash Collector? A Japanese Entrepreneur Wants the Job." The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Martin Fackler’s article in the New York Times, titled "Space’s Trash Collector? A Japanese Entrepreneur Wants the Job” discusses how a Japanese company named Astroscale is pushing to be the first waste management company in space. Astroscale, headed by Mitsunobu Okada, was launched three years ago to get working on a problem he believed could be tackled better by a small company than the national space organizations of the world. “Let’s face it, waste management isn’t sexy enough for a space agency to convince taxpayers to allocate money,” Mr. Okada said. Space is growing ever more dangerous as debris from discarded equipment is distributed by the minute. In the ever so calculated world as rocket science every small detail matters and costly damage can be done by small fragments of debris. As more companies move to space and low orbit becomes more crowded chain reactions could cause massive destruction and render low orbits unusable. Okada plans to profit from his debris clean up by first collecting valuable data on debris density and selling it. The actual debris clean up will come later in the form of satellites that collect debris then fall out of orbit - burning themselves and the debris in the process. Eventually they will target their client’s specific debris and make money that way.
As space travel becomes more and more popular it is important that these less glamorous but just as important issues are solved. Okada’s startup is a smart company at the forefront of a up and coming private field with an extremely specialized and critical role. Because of their headstart in this niche of the industry they are sure to grow as long as they can accomplish what they say. While we think of space as a vast open space a large portion of satellites and other spacecraft are located in the same or similar orbits. This vastly narrows down the size of the space that engineers and planners have to work with and makes it ever so important that it remains clear of debris. In addition, as we develop our space technology we will come to rely on it more and more - raising the stakes if an accident were to ever occur.

I found the article to be fascinating and informative. The way in which the author presented the piece was well done.  It would have been nice to hear if the company has any competitors or what a critic of Mr. Okada’s company had to say on the matter because there was no opposing viewpoint given. Overall the author did a great job introducing a new subset of a growing field.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Connor Barrett
Current Event

Hoffman, Jan. "Learning From Dogs as They Sniff Out Their World." The New York Times. N.p., 10 Oct. 2016. Web.

This article describes reasearch done at Barnard College and elsewhere in the sensory systems of dogs and how they influence their behavior. It turns out that most of a dog’s familiar behavior, like licking, sneezing, and tail wagging, are tied to their olfactory senses. Where humans have about 6 million olfactory receptors, dogs have 300 million, and where humans sniff about once per second, dogs sniff five to ten times. Not only this but the physical way that they exhale out the sides of their noses draws in air through the front, creating a continuous view of the world through smell. Licking is also related to smell in that dogs have a very sensitive vomeronasal organ (VNO) in the roof of their mouth that can pick up the smell of molecules that physically touch it. This means that when dogs lick something they are actually smelling it. In addition, there seems to be no noxious scent for dogs and when they find a very potent smell it signals the motor cortex and makes them lean into the smell. The result is that dogs love rolling around in things that smell bad to humans. Since dogs are so good at smelling it is another way for them to interact with each other. Dogs release scents that give other dogs insight to their mood through anal glands and they wag their tail in order to spread them. While it is healthy for dogs to act this way they are often discouraged from doing so by their owners and come to rely more on visual cues than olfactory ones. Humans can also strengthen their olfactory capabilities by doing what dogs do and taking deliberate sniffs of the world around them.
While the topic of this article will not have a profound affect on the human race, it still is interesting to dog owners and lovers and gives insight into the behaviour of another species, while also teaching us about humans. By understanding why dogs do what they do the connection between dog and owner can be strengthened and enhanced. This information could also help improve the smelling abilities of working dogs.
This article was fun and interesting to read and gave me insight into why my own dog behaves the way he does. The article has several strong points, it relays interesting information in a fun and easy to understand way. A weakness of it, however, could be its lack of more scientific information regarding the findings of the studies and how the studies were conducted. Because of this I would suggest an added paragraph about how the studies were conducted.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Connor Barrett
AP Bio
Current Event
Miles of Algae and a Multitude of Hazards

Neuhaus, Les. "Miles of Algae and a Multitude of Hazards." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 July 2016. Web. 07 Sept. 2016.

This article explains that apparent rising issue of algal blooms in North America, their effects on organisms and human life, and the ways in which they are prevented and dealt with. Algal blooms have been occurring for centuries - Native Americans learned not to go into bioluminescent waters because of their toxicity - but now they are starting to increase in frequency and size causing issues for many forms of life. The main impacts that humans have on algal blooms are still being quantified, but what seems to be clear is that they are heavily related to runoff from farms, feedlots, and municipal sewage systems. Algal bloom itself is cause by an over enrichment of lake water, which essentially means the algae is given so much nutrients it grows past a healthy amount. The effects of climate change, like warmer waters and more light penetration, are also to blame for the increase in the growth of algae. The reason these blooms cause so many issues is they contaminate the water they occur in. Specific types of algae produce toxins and, when consumed, can harm species in an ecosystem. Due to biomagnification this especially affects species near the top of the food chain. Not to mention it can turn a source of water for humans into one that has to be avoided. In order to stop the algal blooms effort has to be directed at both sides of the problem. We need to stop providing the algae with excess nutrients and we also need to develop systems to direct the algae into waterways that can safely handle and remove the large amount of algae. The first issue can be handled by producers and consumers - detergent companies removed phosphorus from their laundry detergents because it is a nutrient for algae. The second has to be tackled by government, which, when it comes to environmental protection, can be slow at best, but it essential to the livelihood of thousands of humans. The smell of decaying algae from algal blooms forced business in some areas of Florida to close during their busiest season and crab and clam fisheries were closed due to toxicity for more than four months on the West Coast, both of these issues causing serious trouble to people who rely on these businesses for income. While the exact cause and the exact solution to the algal blooms is not readily available, we still understand the basics of what we have to do in order to further prevent them, the only issue is organizing ourselves to do so.
Algal blooming has created severe issues for many people by limiting the waterways that they can use for various activities. A 33-square-mile algal bloom that originated in Lake Okeechobee, Florida crept down into the everglades eventually forcing waterside businesses to close due to the scent of decaying algae. More tropical climates are not the only ones affected either, a bloom of blue-green algae covered a 636 mile stretch of the Ohio river last year. Algal bloom even forced 400,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio to stop drinking tap water due to toxic algae. Algal bloom has serious costs to the areas it affects including damage to industries that rely on water in some way. In order to stop algal bloom we may have to start using different products that won’t contribute as much of the nutrients that algae feed off of, but it is a small price to pay in comparison to the issues caused by algal bloom.
The article was written very well, it presented facts directly, but also had examples of the damage algal bloom has caused. It also gave the scientific reason behind the increase in algal bloom and ways in which it can be prevented. The one area I wish the article did better in was explaining the specific processes involved with removing algae and preventing it instead of just naming the process and giving a brief description. Overall it was a well written article that thoroughly informed me about a topic I previously had not heard about.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Editing the Human Genome - Geiling

Abby Geiling              April 19, 2015
Biology 10H              Current Event

Wade, Nicholas. "Scientists Seek Ban on Method of Editing the Human Genome." The New York
Times. The New York Times, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

In the article I read called “Scientist Seek Ban on Method of Editing the Human Genome” by Nicholas Rade, they talked about the new discovery which allows scientist to modify human DNA. This process works when “Researchers simply prime the defence system with a guide sequence of their choice and it will destroy the DNA sequence in any genome presented to it.” There is controversy of whether this should be allowed at all or what limits they should put in order to prevent this discovery from getting out of of control. Biologist are worried that people will rush into modifying genomes because the procedure is very simple. This discovery is known as the genome editing approach it was invented by Jennifer A. Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. Although this process allows us to enhance intelligence, beauty, and possible end genetic disorders many scientist are against it. Dr. Baltimore states, “We worry about people making changes without the knowledge of what those changes mean in terms of overall genome, I personally think we are just not smart enough - and won’t be for a very long time - to feel comfortable about the consequences of changing heredity, even in a single individual. Many scientist agree with Dr. Baltimore and think we should wait until regulations of what you can do and cannot do with genome editing are put in place.
Modifying DNA will greatly affect the society. Once limits are put in place with what can be done, people will think the idea of creating “a perfect child” is very interesting and will pay too have genome editing done are their children. The idea of being able to make a person smarter or more beautiful will draw people in and everyone will want to do it. Another huge way the genome editing will affect society is by possibly ending genetic diseases. Although the idea of creating a “perfect world” sounds entertaining it could potentially cause great damage on the human race which over time would be unstoppable once everyone is genetically modified. I agree with the scientist who want to set limits on what can be done with genome editing in order to ensure that the human race will not be ending by trying to cancel out any imperfections in a human being.

I found this article to be extremely interesting. It was very well written and the author organized his words very well. He made this discovery easy to understand for people who are not scientist and just want to learn about genome editing. I would of wanted him to talk about some of the test that had been done on the animals and for him to go into a little more detail on that topic. I felt that he said the same thing over again a few times in a different wording but other than that I did not see anything wrong with the article.