Category Archives: Biology

Have we Discovered How to make Drought-Resistant Crops?

Have we Discovered How to make Drought-Resistant Crops?

There are more than enough reasons to treasure science and to push the envelope towards progress. Some are driven by an insatiable need to personally know more. Others are pushed to research in hopes of improving efficiency for their industry’s bottom line. And others, still, are compelled to research because they need to solve a problem and they’re pressed for time. This third category is where the scientists working on the RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) project find themselves.

There are a lot of changes in this world coming down the pike that will dramatically affect the way humans manage resources over the next century. These changes primarily relate to two quickly-increasing variables: human population and global average temperatures. As temperatures rise around the globe, droughts are expected to become more common and more frequent, leaving less time for afflicted areas to recover before the next drought occurs. Furthermore, the population of 7.6 billion humans living on the earth right now is projected by the UN to grow to approximately 9.8 billion by 2050. On top of this, roughly 70% of the world’s fresh water is allocated towards agriculture. The most important factors to healthy, sustained human life on Earth (besides oxygen) are access to food and clean drinking water.

These factors form a perfect storm of sorts. As population grows, we will need to find new ways to feed people. While many are attempting to address an incoming food shortage by curbing food waste, people are also looking into increasing crop yields through a deeper understanding of photosynthesis. This is where RIPE comes in.

RIPE scientists working out of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois seem to have found a way of engineering crops so that they use roughly 25% less water while providing the same yields. Through genetic testing on the tobacco plant, they found that by increasing the levels of the protein PsbS (Photosystem II Subunit S), the percentage of water lost per molecule of COassimilated by the plant was reduced by 25% without loss in yield or photosynthesis. And, since PsbS functions the same across all plants, they expect their results to be applicable to other crops as well.

To understand this a little better, it is important to have a slight understanding of what they did. The protein they manipulated, PsbS, is directly related to the functioning of the plant’s stomata. Stomata are the microscopic pores on the epidermis of a plant where gas exchange occurs. Here, COis absorbed to be used in photosynthesis in a process called assimilation, while, at the same time, water vapor is lost in what is called transpiration. Our Monocot Leaf Epidermis slide shows what stomata look like under a microcope:

Stomata in a leaf

The opening and closing of stomata is influenced by the humidity, the COlevels inside the plant, the quality of light, and the quantity of light. The RIPE researchers wanted to genetically alter the stomatal reaction to the quantity of light. Since PsbS plays an essential role in informing the plant on the amount of light available, they wanted test if excess levels of it would trick the plants into opening their stomata less.

They hypothesized that since atmospheric COlevels have increased so much over the last 100-odd years, the stomata on the plant would not need to open as much to take in the amount of COthey need for photosynthesis. That being the case, the smaller pores of the less-opened stomata would allow for the plants to hold onto more of their water and lose less through the pores.

After model tests and field tests, their results seemed to back up their hypothesis. That is a big deal. From here they plan to apply this research to food-producing crops, and, in the process, hopefully cut our agricultural water usage dramatically.

The necessity for research like this can be scary to think about. But, as I said earlier, sometimes science is done because we can’t do without it. That said, even without the prerequisite doom and gloom, the potential water saving aspect of this project is awesome and exciting. Progress like this opens up great new possibilities as to where to allocate resources and how to help the less fortunate people of the world in its drought-stricken regions.

— GSC Go Science Crazy and Jacob Monash

Zika as a Cancer Treatment

We are proud to partner with our suppliers to provide you with the best products for your classroom, and we are also please to share this blog post from our partners at GSC International. 
Zika as a Cancer Treatment?

Zika as a Cancer Treatment?

I stumbled across one story this week regarding the Zika virus and brain cancer research that caught my eye, though the research is far from conclusive. Before I really discuss the article and the study it describes, I wanted to give some context behind Zika and its current state.

Zika is a virus that in a healthy, non-pregnant person causes only mild symptoms. It is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes in the Aedes genus, frequently by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, but it is also known to be transmitted sexuallyMany who are infected don’t realize they’ve come down with the virus, and very few deaths are caused by it. There are two complications of the disease, however, that make it more than concerning – it can trigger Guillain–Barré syndrome (which causes your immune system to attack your nerves) in adults, and microcephaly (a smaller than average head) and other brain defects in children born to infected mothers. Much of the work around Zika includes preventing the infection of pregnant women, and there are already vaccines being tested for them.

I want to be clear – Zika virus is not yet a massive threat in the United States. It is much more prevalent in South America, Central America, Africa, and other regions closer to the equator. The nation-wide panic and sensationalism that filled the news in 2016 when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global medical emergency has more or less subsided. Though we don’t know what the future holds, the CDC is taking measures to prevent its spread around the world and in the US, such as education, travel warnings, further study, and comprehensive tracking, among other things.

Now, what does Zika have to do with brain cancer? Though it is largely a negative force in the world, researchers at the University of Campinas’s School of Pharmaceutical Sciences in São Paulo State, Brazil are trying to use it for good.

Glioblastoma, which is the most common and aggressive type of adult brain tumor, is very resistant to chemotherapy. That means that alternate forms of treatment for it are very sought after.

One newer, promising candidate for cancer treatment is the use of what are known as oncolytic viruses. These are viruses that have been genetically engineered and altered to destroy tumors. This technique is already showing promise in treating melanoma, bone cancer, and more.

Now, these scientists at the University of Campinas’s School of Pharmaceutical Sciences are finding some success using Zika to kill off glioblastoma tumors. They have found that by infecting tumor cells with Zika, the tumor cell is induced into producing a molecule known as digoxin, which has previously shown promise in killing breast and skin cancer tumors. After observing these infected tumor cells using mass spectrometry, the researchers found signs of cell death caused by the induced digoxin. They hope in the future to genetically engineer a form of Zika that will only synthesize digoxin instead of infecting the patient with Zika.

The fact that humans are able to take a dangerous and possibly debilitating disease such as Zika and try to use it as a potential cure for cancer speaks volumes towards human ingenuity and our ability to make the best out of a bad situation. I realize that, like many cutting-edge medical advances that you see in the news, this treatment option likely has years of testing to go through before it is even considered for use in a clinical setting. It has a decent chance of never making it out of the lab. But, still, we are trying incredibly innovative (counter-intuitive, even) solutions to some of our most frightening problems.

—Courtesy of GSC Go Science Crazy and Jacob Monash

Demystifying De-Extinction

Every species becomes extinct eventually. Animals such as the woolly mammoth and passenger pigeon are one of the many species who failed to leave behind descendants that could adapt to their surroundings and carry on their genetic lineage. But what if there was a process that could bring extinct species back to life? Scientists are getting closer to making this a reality thanks to de-extinction. Continue reading “Demystifying De-Extinction” »

What Makes Fireflies Glow?

Pretty soon, when you look outside at night you will notice the intermittent glow of fireflies throughout your backyard. This is one of the sure-tell signs that summer is finally here and while these twinkling bugs can keep us in awe for what seems like hours at a time, there is some serious chemistry happening in their bodies. Continue reading “What Makes Fireflies Glow?” »

How Dogs Find Their Way Home Without a GPS

The migration patterns of certain animals have always been a mystery to scientists. Species such as birds and humpback whales demonstrate precision and consistency every time they migrate to a new climate with whales migrating as far as 3,000 miles to the exact same feeding area every year! (I need a GPS to go just 10 miles up the road.) Another animal who demonstrated this impressive feat was a sheepdog from Wales who about a month ago traveled 240 miles to his previous owners home.

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15 Images That Will Leave You in Awe of Science

This is an image of oil paint floating in a solution of water and methylated spirits.: When you think of science what usually comes to mind? It’s doubtful that colorful imagery or bright, exciting chemical reactions that look like they’re going to jump out at you from the page are top of your list. Believe it or not, all of these images below are in fact science reactions captured by some of the world’s greatest photographers. Read on and be prepared to be completely in awe of science!

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Giving transplant patients a second chance to soar

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, 121,357 people are currently waiting for an organ transplant in the U.S. alone. Some of these people are probably your loved ones, your neighbor, your best friend or your co-worker. Organ transplants have the possibility to extend the lives of thousands of people each year and it has been Thermo Fisher Scientific’s mission to advance the field of transplantation and improve the quality of life for both patients and their families. Read on to find out how one transplant recipient benefited from our diagnostic tools and technologies and has committed her life to paying it forward.

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Making the Invisible, Visible..with iPads

This is a guest post from Maggie Keeler (@KeelerMS). Shared with the permission of our friends at Swift Optical.

Microscope work in science class is often a solitary endeavor. Traditionally, one student searches to find a seemingly invisible organism while patiently waiting for the teacher to come confirm that they’ve found it. Not anymore! With the MotiConnect App from Motic, this isolated experience becomes collaborative. MotiConnect allows you to connect up to six iPads wirelessly to a Moticam X camera or digital microscope with Moticam software. Each student is then able to capture images, record videos, annotate, and measure images from the microscope.

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The History of the Microscope

hookeFour hundred years ago, the world of the microscope was unexplored. That means the structure of things like plants and the tissues of animals were a mystery, and there were thousands of other plants and animals that we didn’t even know existed! The causes of the diseases could only be hypothesized about and medical science was limited. Antonie van Leeuwenhook’s invention of the microscope in the 17th century brought about a revolution in scientific knowledge.

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Pupils Give Clues to Ecological Niche

Domestic_dog__Cani_eyeLooking deeply into the eyes of your pet cat, one thing is immediately obvious. Assuming that your feline is easygoing and placid, doesn’t mind up-close-and-personal encounters with humans and is not struggling to get as far away as possible, you would be struck by its pupils. They are not like yours. They are not like a goat’s, either. As it turns out, that is all for the best.

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