Thursday, August 25, 2016

Article #3

Near Blind Sharp is World’s Longest Lived Vertebrate


I’ve thought for a long time that sharks are awesome, and this article just adds another reason to the list why. I feel like sharks have a really bad reputation, so any news story I see about sharks that doesn’t involve people dying makes me happy. Also, the idea of three hundred year old blind sharks swimming around Greenland is a really nice one for some reason.  

I’m curious about the actual techniques that were used to get the age of the shark. In the article it said that the fibers in the eye were tested for the level of radioactive carbon, and I assume that the carbon was carbon-dated, but I never knew exactly how that worked and I’d like to learn more about it. I remember talking about carbon dating in biology vaguely, but the only specific I can remember is that you can’t get an exact year out of it.

Before reading this article I thought that that old sea turtle in the Galapagos was the oldest vertebrate. From doing some quick research, it turns out that that turtle (tortoise, actually) was named Harriet and was only 175. Turns out that the sharks beat the turtles yet again.

Another question I had was what type of shark this was, but it turns out that “Greenland shark” is a type of shark. Easy answers. I also thought that it was strange that because they were large and lived in cold water, they used less energy. It seems like it would take more energy to keep a large body warm in the cold, but it’s interesting that it works in reverse. When you think about it, it makes sense, but at first glance it seems counter intuitive.

It’s unfortunate that because of hunters and other dangers (commercial fishing, climate change, etc.)  these sharks may die off. Very few sharks are dangerous to humans, but because of their bad reputation most people don’t care very much about stopping shark hunting, when it’s a huge problem that deserves more attention. I like that this article addresses this problem.

Anyways, I really like sharks so I really liked this article. Sharks are cool, and now I know that some of them are also extremely old.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Article #2

Chinese Scientists to Pioneer First Human CRISPR Trial


My first thought when reading this is that CRISPR sounds amazing. Although there are definitely a lot of things that could go wrong, this is a cool step forward in science. The fact that stuff like this has been done before to help people with HIV is really promising, since it’s known that this has the capability to help. Even if that huge list of scary things happens, like the cells attacking the a random organ that’s supposed to be left alone, this is a great first step. Whatever is learned in this trial will help future trials, and hopefully this will eventually be something that can really help a lot of people.  

I have almost no experience with clinical trials other than what I picked up watching Grey’s Anatomy, which probably isn’t very scientifically accurate. This was really interesting to read because it gave me a look into how they work. It makes sense that these trials start out slowly, by making sure that everything is safe and working properly, before getting into the real stuff. I’d like to learn a little more about clinical trials, so I knew how often they’re successful and what other kinds of things are being studied out there.

One question I have is why they decided to keep the experimental group so small. With something this cool that has so much potential to make a huge difference, it seems like a larger group wouldn’t have been too hard to get together. The more people are involved the more accurate the results will be, and the more the researchers will know about where to go next. Maybe more trials are planned a little later or something like that; I’m sure that everything was very well thought out.

This reminds me of a lab we did in bio where we used enzymes to splice DNA, or something along those lines. I don’t remember any specifics other than mine turning very differently than it was supposed to. I’m sure that the scientists running the CRISPR trial are going to be much more successful than my freshmen year experiments were.

CRISPR is such a cool thing and I really hope that this trial is successful. Even though it might take a while, this seems like it could potentially actually "cure" cancer, which is beyond awesome. Bio can do some nice stuff out there in the world.




Sunday, August 21, 2016

Article #1

Hybrid animals like 'grolar bears' not expected to be common consequence of climate change

Grizzly + Polar = Grolar
This article brought up a lot of interesting ideas that I hadn’t considered before. The only species mixing as a result of climate change that I’d heard of was grolar bears, and this was only because a cousin of my mom wrote a book about climate change and I remember her husband giving a talk about grolar bears as part of the release of that book. There are a lot of aspects of climate change that are discussed often, many that include polar bears and their climate, but this side is one that isn’t talked about much so it was interesting to hear about. For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me that this was even a problem, or that species other than bears could be affected.
Basically, as world temperatures change animals will have to shuffle around in order to stay in the climate that they are biologically supposed to be in. This means that when similar species come together, there will be a bit of crossover, creating hybrid animals. One thing that struck me as interesting is how much higher the rate of overlap was for birds, which seemed off until I remembered migration, and then it made a lot of sense.
A hybrid of these birds has been seen
In biology I remember talking a little about evolution and how over a very long period of time animals evolve, until eventually they are something different. This type of hybrid animal creation happens very fast, and unlike evolution, doesn’t give the rest of the animals in the ecosystem time to adapt. In the tropics, where the greatest amount of “climate induced range overlap” is expected, it will probably cause a lot of problems. Introducing a new species will always have some impact, for better or worse (but usually worse), and a lot of new species are expected to be introduced here.
The thing that struck me as kind of concerning was how much the news article changed how the information was presented. Reading the scientific article I was thinking how high the numbers were, but the news article seemed very nonchalant about it, saying that hybrid animals were “not expected to be a common consequence of climate change” and dismissing the severity of the problem. Even if only 6% of species are affected by this, that’s a lot of species and the world will change a lot because of the overlap.

Despite lots of fancy notation in the scientific article that didn’t make much sense to my high school brain, this article was very informative. The biggest question that it brings to mind is whether or not things will actually pan out like the article says. Unfortunately, this is one question that only time can answer.

The topic of hybrid animals is one that people don’t talk about a lot, and that scientists haven’t looked into extensively, with even the article calling it a “relatively unstudied biological impact of climate change.” In the future I’d be interested to read more about the topic, and to see if other studies support the data put forward in this study or not.

What will be next?
Also, side note, sorry I'm so late to the summer bio party. I meant to get here sooner but it didn't work out that way. I'm here now though!