Citizen Science

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AP Biology Exam

Well in today’s post I will be reflecting on my AP Biology Exam, or rather… the part of it I took. I could not make the original AP Biology exam that the rest of the class took because I was on an airplane ride home from Louisville, Kentucky. Therefore I was scheduled to take my exam on Friday the 19th! However… things did not go as planned.

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I went in that morning bright and early and sat in Ms. Cerles office. She read me all the instructions, and just as I was about to begin, I noticed that the front page said that if the test was being administered to me anytime before 12 pm, to immediately stop. Being that it was 8 am, I questioned this. Ms. Cerles called Mrs. Cunha who said all should be fine and I went ahead with my test. As I am on one of the last questions and over an hour has passed, Mrs. Cunha bursts in the room talking on the phone needing my student ID immediately saying that I must stop the exam. She later comes back to tell me that she was speaking to college board and they said that my exam needed to be canceled since I was taking it at the wrong time and that I would have to reschedule. I also needed to write a hand written note saying I would not speak about the testing material. Then, I went back to AP Bio class.

I am not upset at all. To be quite honest, I did not expect to pass the AP Biology exam in the first place, and I wasn’t too keen on taking it in the first place. Sure, I am slightly annoyed that now I have to go through another multiple choice section of AP Bio (because to be honest, I dozed off a couple of times during the test) but in the scheme of things, its whatever. I am not upset with Mrs. Cunha or Ms. Cerles because it was an honest mistake! Now I have more time to study, if I so choose to do so. The part of the test I did take was not at all as hard as I expected it to be! But I am not getting my hopes up. I am taking my new test this friday so let’s hope I do well!

Let’s Talk About Biases

Confirmation Bias (noun): The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.

Picture this…you’re arguing with someone and backing your statements with facts, however, the other person refuses to see it your way. I’m sure we have all experienced this, and it has driven many of us crazy. Their refusal to see it your way is likely because of confirmation bias which causes many people flat out ignore or disregard information that conflicts with their opinion. To get past this, the first step is realizing that we all have a bias regarding our own opinions and that we may not understand everything as well as we think we do! In this post, I am going to do the #DoNowConfirmationBias from KQED. This do now asks me to pick a controversial topic and research what the other side believes and why they believe this! The topic I have chosen is animal testing! I support animal testing because it has led to so many lifesaving medical cures and treatments, the animals are treated humanely by law, and there are no other real alternatives, to name a few reasons. But let’s get into why people are against animal testing. Warning: this blog post may contain graphic images.

  1. There is data suggesting that animal testing is actually cruel and inhumane. In 2010 the US Department of Agriculture reported that 97,123 animals have suffered pain with no anesthesia during experiments. For example, the Draize eye test (used by cosmetics companies) is done to test irritability caused by shampoos and other products, however, this test requires rabbits to be kept with their eyelids held open by clips (sometimes for days on end) so that they cannot blink. ouch

    Rabbits in stocks, Bangkok University, Thailand 1989
    The stock rabbits are kept in to prevent them from moving or cleaning out their eye
  2. Alternative testing methods exist, thus we can replace animal testing. In glass testing is known as in vitro testing which is where cells cultures in a petri dish are studied using human cells. Also, microdosing is a form of testing where small doses are given to human volunteers (doses too small to cause bad reactions) and then their blood is analyzed. Instead of testing chemicals on rabbits skin, researchers can use artificial human skin. And these are just three examples!

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    In Vitro testing
  3. Animal testing does not predict reliable results in humans! Data shows that a whopping 94% of drugs that pass animal testing fail when given to humans in clinical trials.
  4. Animal testing is VERY expensive. Humane Society International discovered that an “unscheduled DNA synthesis” animal test costs $32,000 compared to the in vitro alternative which costs $11,000. It is also important to note the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends $14 billion of its $31 billion annual budget on animal research!
  5. Being that animals can suffer in the way humans do, it is speciesism to experiment on them. People opposed to animal testing often argue that just because animals lack the cognitive ability, language and moral judgment that humans have, does not mean they can be tested on. They often equate this to testing on humans with sever mental impairments, which we know is not right. An english philospher Jeremey Bentham once said,

The question is not, Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? but Can they suffer?

 

These are just five of the reasons why many people are against animal testing, and I encourage you to look into it for yourself and reevaluate your own opinion. I still believe that despite these cons, animal testing is beneficial, but my beliefs have been challenged and I now have more appreciation for the cures and treatments that successfully come out of animal testing.

Sources:

“Animal Testing – ProCon.org.” Should Animals Be Used for Scientific or Commercial Testing?N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.

Engebretson, Monica. “Seventy Years Is Enough: It’s Time to Put the Draize Test Out of Its Misery.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 16 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 May 2017.

Redazione. “REACH: taking up alternatives to animal testing.” Kosmetica World. N.p., 06 Nov. 2014. Web. 23 May 2017.

AP Bio Rockstars part 2!

In this AP Bio Rockstars round up, I am going to be telling you about the classes from May 7th to May 21st! In this time frame, we had a lot of fun, even if not everyone was present at all times! The class had some buggy visitors, we discussed Henrietta Lacks and her cells, we had a Wolbachia lab, and now we are working on our digital sites!

Although I was absent for the Arthropod visitors, my fellow classmates Natalie and Keira all had amazing blog posts about them that I will link at the bottom! Natalie blogged about a Lubber grasshopper which was the “sickest looking arthropod” she had seen all day! From her post, I learned that this little bugger is a vegetarian and that they bury their eggs in a sandy place for protection.

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Lubber Grasshopper (photo from Natalie’s blog post)

Natalie also posted about a Madagascar Cockroach, which is apparently very important to the food web because these arthropods can eat anything, and are also a food supply for others.

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Madagascar Cockroach (photo from Natalie’s blog post)

Keira is seen below holding a Giant African Millipede which is very fragile! This millipede can grow to have about 300 legs and live to be 20 years old! However, they only live this long assuming they do not get eaten by other organisms! I can tell you this much…if I saw this certain arthropod in my house (or anywhere for that matter), my two legs would carry me very far away and very fast.

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Keira holding Giant African Millipede next to Veronica (photo from Keira’s blog post)

Keira also posted about her favorite creature of the day, the Whip Scorpion which has eight legs and one is super long which is known as the whip! From Keira’s post I learned that this arthropod has olfactory receptors thus allowing the organism to smell, in fact, they smell with their legs!

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Whip Scorpion (photo from Keira’s blog post)

We also watched the Henrietta Lacks movie and blogged about it! Basically, Henrietta Lacks was a poor African-American woman whose cells were stolen from her without her knowledge and became known as the immortal HeLa cells. These cells have since been used for quite a lot in the medical and research field, yet her family was never compensated. Watch the trailer below, and the book is available as well!

We then started working on our Wolbachia lab this week, and get this, we all brought in bugs! THAT WE CAUGHT!!! Well my dad caught mine, but I digress. Wolbachia is a bacteria that infects arthropod insects and nematodes and feminizes them and kills their offspring. We collected DNA from our little buggies and when we get back to class we will be seeing our results!!

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Wolbachia Lab! (photos from Quinlyn, ME!)

Finally we will be working on our sites quite a lot. We posted videos giving advice to the future ap bio girls, and we have many blog posts to write preparing for the end of class!! 11 days until graduation, the end is near and the journey has been great!

https://nsmith17.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/all-about-arthropods/

https://extempexploration.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/arthropod-adventure/

A Reflection on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

 

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Henrietta Lacks

To begin, let’s go over the basics. Henrietta Lacks was a poor African-American woman of the 1920s who was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 31 years old. Cells from her tumor, known as HeLa cells, were taken without her consent and were discovered by researcher George Gey to grow and divide without limit thus making them “immortal.” This had a giant impact on the science and medical community, one that you most likely have benefitted from. The HeLa cells have been used to create the polio vaccine, aid in the understanding of cancer, cells, and HIV/AIDS, have been exposed to nuclear testing and toxins, have been to space, and are currently being used to grow viruses and test antitumor medicines. To put it shortly, the HeLa cells have done quite a lot! But for all this work… her family was left in the dark and they were not paid even a dime.

The book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot details how Henrietta’s daughter Deborah and the author Rebecca journey through understanding HeLa and Henrietta, as well as provides the reader with information about Henrietta’s life as a whole. What is important to note is that this most definitely is a race issue. Henrietta Lacks was mistreated by John Hopkins, mistreated by George Gey, mistreated by the companies that gained millions of dollars of her cells and the Lacks family is STILL mistreated as they have YET to receive compensation. The 1950s were not a pretty time racially, yes that I can admit. But there is no excuse as to why they have yet to be paid. Not one.

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The novel by Rebecca Skloot

Reflecting on this makes me question my own beliefs, as I most definitely want to either go into medicine or into research, two key topics here. As a doctor, it would be my job to look after my patient with no bias, no matter what color, size, income, history, etc. As a researcher, I would need to equally understand that the end does not justify the means.

There is NO excuse for unethical behavior, even if the outcome is stupendous.

Can you imagine having such a large impact on the world and your family never knowing or receiving any benefits? That would be like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking and many more names I am sure we all recognize never being acknowledged for their contributions to society. But reading those names and matching them to faces… we all know the differences between them and Henrietta Lacks. I challenge you to look within yourself and determine whether or not something like this could happen today. Personally? I am absolutely positive it could. We have fixed a lot as a country in regards to racial issues but we still have so far to go.

I encourage you to read this book, you can get it on your apple device for $10.99 or in your nearest library! Or you can watch the movie, produced by HBO, which I will link below.

 

Pigs Being Used to Grow Human Organs?!

Recent research is testing whether or not human organs can be grown in pigs! Now, this may sound a little wild, however, this challenge to science is really quite interesting.

Let’s delve into this and how exactly these tests work. The process is completed in stages, with the first stage using CRISPR gene editing. This technique takes away the gene that codes for the growth of a specific pig organ. Human stem cells are then injected into the embryo which had the pig organ gene taken away. This is done with hopes that when the embryo is placed into a mother pig, the human organ would grow inside the embryo which could one day be removed and placed on a human transplant.

Now that we know the “how” let’s investigate the why. The American Transplant Foundation reports that 22 people die every day waiting for organ donations and those who remain alive as they wait often suffer deeply. The goal of this research is to save human lives so that the number of people who die while waiting for an organ to save them can be greatly, if not totally, reduced. Also, this project opens the possibility of using the organ recipient’s own stem cells as an injection into the embryo which would then end the need for the patient to take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of their life, as their body will not reject an organ it sees as its’ own.

Why is anyone opposed? Well, there are a few reasons. There is a risk that the baby pigs could develop human-like brains. So far the tests have been cut off at a certain timeline, therefore, preventing this from happening. Another worry is that the pigs DNA could alter the injected DNA. Lastly, many question whether or not it is ethical to grow pigs solely for the need of an organ for a human.

Personally, I think the gain is bigger than the risk. We know for a fact that people are dying and suffering as they wait for their organs. We do not know for certain what could happen with the pig embryos, but if this new method can save lives, then I am all for it! Farms currently grow pigs to sell them as bacon, sausage and other various forms of meat. So why not use them to grow an organ, save a life, and then put them in a grocery store. Would that in itself cause another ethical question? Would people buy bacon made by a pig that also made a human organ? There are so many hypotheticals, but based on the facts, this could prove to be very beneficial.

Watch the video and read the article here! Leave your opinion in the comments below.

https://ww2.kqed.org/learning/2017/02/15/should-pigs-be-used-to-grow-human-organs/

Ghost in Your Genes Movie Review

I absolutely loved watching this movie, for a multitude of reasons!

  1. The movie did a GREAT job of hooking the viewer through suspenseful music, flickering images and intriguing questions.
  2. Twins run in my family, therefore there is a possibility that I may have them!
  3. I adore genetics and more so love puzzles like why twins with the exact same genome differ in diseases and disorders!

Building off of number 3, learning about epigenetics has only increased my love for the overall topic of genetic sciences as a whole! In Ghost in Your Genes, the scientists revealed that an epigenome is defined as above the genome, but in layman’s terms…

The software that tells the computer, how, where, and how much to do.

Basically, twins can have the exact same genome, however their epigenetics will switch different traits on and off. For example, twins A & B have different epigenetics, which is how twin B can have autism while twin A does not. Scientists also did tests which showcased that one’s epigenome can change based upon the nurture of their mother as shown by rats. This only adds to the large biological question of nature vs. nurture.

The choices one makes in life, the events that happen to them, and the way they are raised all affect their epigenome. People who sufer from traumatic childhoods often showcase similar mental effects, as seen in many serial killers. Science can explain why some people murder multiple people while people raised in the same circumstances do not. Which is also why I loved this movie because I have always wondered what creates a serial killer.

The last thing the movie covered was how scientists in Sweden were able to connect the affects of famine on the grandparents to their children. If a grandpa was effected by famine in his early childhood, then his grandson should live for an extended period of time. However if a grandma was effected by famine while she was in the womb, then her granddaughter will most likely die early. Small differences in the lives of the grandparent can change the life of their following generations.

All of this new information completely boggles my mind! Your outside life can effect what traits are turned on and off for you? The lives of your previous generations can affect your life today? Twins can be 100% the same and yet 100% different? This movie was short, fun, and amazingly scientific! if you have the opportunity to watch then I certainly recommend!

Never Give up!

A dream that I have is to be successful and educated in the future, while working in a prestigious career, one I have not determined yet. At times I have doubted whether or not I have the endurance to continuously work hard and be dedicated to my field, and wonder if the busy and very important life of a stay at home mom would be better suited for me. But some of Diana’s encouraging quotes really stuck with me, one is as follows.

“How much life is there left?… What are we going to do? What are we going to do as we go forward to have no regrets looking back?”

I know that when I look back on my life, I want to be able to say that I was a powerful career woman. I do not think I would regret raising my family, but I would regret not seeing how far in life I could go if I worked towards a goal. Another quote of hers I really enjoyed was…

You have a dream and you have obstacles in front of you, as we all do. None of us ever get through this life without heartache, without turmoil,and if you believe and you have faith and you can get knocked down and get back up again and you believe in perseverance as a great human quality, you find your way”

I like this quote because the words remind me that every successful person I look up to has struggled at least once to get to their current spot, therefore I am encouraged to get back up when I am knocked down. I once heard that what makes great people great is not their talent alone, but their ability to get back up.

The last quote I enjoyed was…

when you reach for the horizon, as I’ve proven, you may not get there, but what a tremendous build of character and spirit that you lay down”

This last quote reminds me that sometimes you do not reach your goal, but at least you tried! We often invalidate the whole journey if we do not make it to the destination, but that is nuts! Even attempting to reach for your dream is an accomplishment within itself, so even if I do not make it to the horizon, I will be proud of myself for trying.

I highly recommend watching Diana Nyad’s TedTalk if you have any free time! The video is a little over 15 minutes of pure encouragement. Diana Nyad’s Ted Talk

 

1st Semester Final Review

Coming into AP Bio I was absolutely terrified. I was very concerned about how I was going to maintain a solid grade, keep up with the workload, and remain in love with the subject. While these are still very big concerns of mine, I have learned how to manage them! With the help of Mrs. Girard, my fellow classmates, hard work and some faith in God, I can gladly say I accomplished all three of these tasks!

I faced struggles with maintaining a solid grade, but I also had to come face to face with the acceptance that a B is not an awful grade. A “B” means I tried my hardest, need to learn from my mistakes and come back better next semester! B stands for better in my book and I cannot wait to prove that I can make this happen. Tied in with my grades was my struggle with remaining in love with the subject. Often, I would find that every time I did not perform as well as I would have liked on a test, I would get very down in the dumps and lose all faith thus making me not perform well on other work. An endless cycle of me bringing myself down. However, whenever we have presentations I always feel really confident because I am able to showcase that I do understand the information even if I do not portray it well over tests.

The work was not truly awful for me, just because Mrs. Girard never overloads us. The only times I would get worried was when I would procrastinate but that is what I get for doing that to myself! I enjoyed our work and never really felt like we were doing busy work! My favorite projects were the ones that involved me making a video because even though they are really hard to make, I always feel so proud after!

Speaking of videos, I have learned so many new technology skills I get so excited to showcase them! Like this blog! Creating a website to showcase all of our hard work in a fun and interactive way has been super cool and I can’t wait to continue!

All in all, yes I was rightfully nervous. This class is not a joke, I have to work very very hard, but that makes me appreciate everything in the end. I am so proud of everyone in this class and how far we have all come! I am forever amazed at the talent and intelligence of all these young women.

Cracking the Code

In watching Cracking The Code of Life, I learned all about two companies competing to see who could map out the whole human genome first. One was known as the Human Genome Project, and their mission (funded by the government!!) was to crack the code of our genome and through doing so, also understand genetic issues like diseases and disorders. The other group was known as Celera and was a private business striving to complete Human DNA in order to ensure fame and also a monetary increase being that this company planned to sell their information to future researchers.

In class, we questioned as to whether or this was ethically sensible, selling genetic information for a fee as opposed to leaving the information open for research that would benefit humanity as a whole. While I do not think to be money hungry is ethically sound, I also understand the need for an incentive. Money drives many people, and driven people make discoveries, so if money is needed to motivate people to find cures and solutions, then bring on the money!

Also in class, we discussed the ethics behind being able to determine if your unborn baby will be born healthy (disease and disorder free), and whether or not an unhealthy baby warrants an abortion. I feel as though if I knew my baby would live a short life in pain due to a disease like Tay-Sachs, I would terminate the pregnancy. I also feel as though if someone knew their baby would be born needing care that they cannot afford, terminating the pregnancy is verifiable.

However, I do not believe knowing this information would be good for humanity because I worry that fetus genetic information could be a slippery slope. What starts with Tay-Sachs (a disease where a baby is normal until about 3 to 6 months and then begins to showcase horrible symptoms and sequentially does not live past infancy), could be used to genetically create the perfect child, like in the movie Gattaca. Down Syndrome can be detected while the infant is still in the womb, and studies show that due to these tests, there has been a sharp decrease in the birth of babies with Down Syndrome. Therefore I wonder if other genetic traits can be detected, would these babies also be aborted? If so, the human race as a whole could face slowly decreasing genetic diversity which opens a whole new can of worms itself!!

But let’s get back to the movie Cracking the Code of Life, which I really enjoyed! I love discussing genetics and the ethical questions we all must ponder when discussing new technology. Yes, being able to detect diseases that would make your unborn baby’s life horrible and painful would be beneficial. Also thinking of the amazing advances that could lead to cures for other awful diseases, makes me really want to support issues like this. Yet at the same, genetic diversity is extremely important (hello natural selection?!) and if you have seen Gattaca, you know that once people can start planning and create their babies, the end game is not pretty.

I recommend everyone watch this movie! And when you are finished, ask yourself what do you believe.