Categories
Biomedical Research

What is Antibiotic Resistance?

By Harshal Chinthala

Published 8:45 PM EST, Thurs April 15, 2021

Introduction

In the case of a bacterial infection, it is customary to look for antibiotics for treatment. They can prevent harmful conditions from developing and also often prevent fatalities. Unfortunately, what is known as antibiotic resistance is becoming more of a problem within this common treatment practice. Antibiotic resistance involves evolving bacteria gaining the ability to resist the effects of antibiotics, resulting in bacteria/fungi fighting back against the drugs meant to expel them. In other words, the bacteria becomes “resistant” to antibiotics and therefore continue to multiply. Antibiotic-resistant infections are difficult, if not impossible, to treat. In most cases, they necessitate prolonged hospital stays, extra follow-up medical appointments, and expensive and toxic treatment options. 

About Antibiotic Resistance

To understand more about antibiotic resistance, it must be understood how antibiotics work. One of the first antibiotics produced was Penicillin, which was released in the year 1941. Penicillin works by blocking the protein struts that link peptidoglycans (a structure in bacterial cells). The bacterium is unable to close the openings in its cell walls as a result of this. In 1942, scientists identified the Penicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Shortly after in 1967, another penicillin resistant germ known as Streptococcus pneumoniae was identified, and in 1967, Penicillinase-producing Neisseria gonorrhoeae was as well. The bacteria that survived the penicillin grew resistant, meaning that penicillin will not work on that type of bacteria. Soon the penicillin resistant bacteria may become more common which is a huge problem as it results in penicillin being unable to work. This is a clear example of bacteria adapting and looking for ways to survive; and just like any other organism, they often find solutions in dire situations. Some diseases are becoming difficult to treat due to antibiotic resistance such as Pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, and foodborne illnesses. 

Since the introduction of antibiotics, the number of emerging ones has only increased. This is because as new antibiotics emerge, antibiotic resistance also develops. Antibiotic resistance is increasing at an alarming rate around the world. The most serious problem is that widely used antibiotics may become less effective in treating common infections.  That means doctors would have to resort to more potent and often less friendly antibiotics, or risk running out of options. In some cases, the number of bacteria resistant to a variety of antibiotics has grown nearly ten times. Even newly approved drugs are encountering resistance, albeit in small quantities, so it is crucial to be cautious in how we use them. Any type of drug risks being ineffective if used for long periods of time. From reports by the CDC, nearly 2 million people in the United States contracted an infection while in the hospital each year, resulting in 90,000 deaths. In addition, it is presumed that at least one of the antibiotics usually used to treat these infections is resistant to more than 70% of the bacteria that cause them.   

There are ways to prevent antibiotic resistance. At all levels of society, actions can be taken to prevent antibiotic resistance from becoming an even larger issue. Public policy makers can make plans to tackle these problems: infection prevention programs, new policies, and implementation of these methods. Another thing they can do is regulate the quality of certain drugs used for medication. Health professionals must also do their part as well. Doctors can ensure that antibiotics are prescribed when only absolutely necessary, according to existing guidelines. Additionally, they can report antibiotic-resistant diseases to monitoring teams as soon as possible. Finally, steps can be taken at the individual level as well. These include listening to doctors instructions when taking antibiotics, only using antibiotics if prescribed by a professional, and not demanding for antibiotics if they are not needed. 

Conclusion

There are already some measures being taken by organizations like the World Health Organization. New research is being done on how pathogens are able to gain antibiotic resistance in the first place. In May 2015, the World Health Assembly adopted a worldwide action plan on antimicrobial resistance, known as the Public Health Action Plan to Combat Antimicrobial Resistance which includes antibiotic resistance. The aim of the global action plan is to use safe and effective drugs to prevent and treat infectious diseases, therefore decreasing the chance of antibiotic resistance. The tasks outlined in the plan are still being carried out by task force organizations. The plan’s success, known as the Public Health Action Plan to Combat Antimicrobial Resistance, relies on support from various institutions including state and local health departments, colleges, professional societies, pharmaceutical companies, health care providers, agricultural producers, and the general public. In summary, antibiotic resistance is a huge threat to modern medicine that will continue to worsen. However, if everyone does their part, progress can be made to reach promising solutions. 

Harshal Chinthala, Youth Medical Journal 2021

References

Antibiotic resistance. (2020, July 31). https://Www.Who.Int/News-Room/Fact-Sheets/Detail/Antibiotic-Resistance. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antibiotic-resistance

What Exactly is Antibiotic Resistance? (2020, March 13). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html#:%7E:text=Antibiotic%20resistance%20happens%20when%20germs,killed%20and%20continue%20to%20grow.Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (2016, May 4). Battle of the Bugs: Fighting Antibiotic Resistance. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-consumers-and-patients-drugs/battle-bugs-fighting-antibiotic-resistance

Categories
Biomedical Research

How Does Memory Work?

By Harshal Chinthala

Published 1:44 PM EST, Thurs March 11, 2021

Introduction

We define memory as the process in which information is retained in the mind and later retrieved. Human memory capabilities are a key reason for our species’ survival. Through our memory, we can analyze our past and create ideas for the future. Since this process is so complex, it is also hard to study. The very brief answer to the question of how memory works is that memory works on a “dual-process,” basis, where more subconscious, more repetitive thought processes communicate with more conscious, more problem-based thought processes. Elements at these two levels work together and form what we know as memory. This isn’t a clean process as we sometimes misremember things and certain people have better memory retention than others. Memory is a topic that has been highly studied and continues to be researched.

Our Processes of Memory

We can summarize the three processes of memory as encoding, storage, and retrieval. Encoding is the stage where information is gained in our mind and we can take this information in several ways. Some common ones include semantic encoding, visual encoding, acoustic encoding, and tactile encoding. Semantic encoding is information about what something means. Acoustic is about how something sounds. Visual is how something looks and tactile is how something feels. After encoding, the next step is storage, which is how the information is kept in the brain. 

We can split storage into short-term and long-term memory. Short-term memory consists of memories we are currently thinking about. Short-term memory is usually stored for around twenty to thirty seconds and is limited. Reinforcing short-term memories by constantly remembering them creates long-term memories. Long-term memory can be stored for long periods. Usually, long-term memory is unconscious and you don’t need continued effort to remember them. For example, many people remember the lyrics to a song they heard several years ago because they store it in their long-term memory. Long-term memory can also be triggered by certain events, but it often remains until needed. Short-term memory can only store five to nine pieces of information at a time, whereas long-term memory is essentially unlimited as far as we know.

We know the last step as retrieval. You retrieve information at an unconscious level anytime you wish to recall something, taking it into your conscious mind at will. Although most people believe they either have a “poor” or a “decent” memory, most people are pretty good at recalling some sort of things and not so good at recalling others. Long-term memory is usually retrieved through affiliation. One way of thinking about long-term memory is as a network. So when you remember something about school, it can trigger memories about certain classes, sports, or even friends. Short-term memory is usually retrieved in order. For example, remembering the previous numbers to solve a math problem. 

The part of your brain associated with memory is the hippocampus. At a place called a synapse, nerve cells bind with other cells. At the synapse–where electrical signals bearing messages jump through distances between cells–all the activity in the brain happens. The release of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters is caused by the electrical firing of a pulse through the void, and via the gaps between cells, these neurotransmitters disperse.

How Does Memory Relate to Our Lives?

Being forgetful is very common, but our memory can be improved in a variety of methods. There are ways to reduce memory loss by improving your recall. One way is to test yourself frequently. This is usually the idea incorporated by schools and other institutions that test students with small amounts of information and later perform a summative assessment. Spacing is a method where you learn information over a spread amount of time instead of all at once. Interleaving is another method where you practice only one skill or topic at one time. 

As we get older, our memory capacities decrease and we experience more memory “breakdowns,” or loss of the memory function. Although our brain does not change its structure, the connections in your brain change with age. The synapses which connect cells become weaker and weaker, which affects the ability to retrieve memories. Even though changes in the brain may make it harder to recall information well, our overall memory will remain strong. Also remaining physically and mentally active has been shown to stimulate the brain to improve memory. In conclusion, memory is one of the most important things we have that makes us who we are. We are a combination of our memories and experiences. The process of memory isn’t as simple as it seems, and scientists are still working toward understanding the complexities. 

Harshal Chinthala, Youth Medical Journal 2021

References

How memory works. (n.d.). Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://bokcenter.harvard.edu/how-memory-works#:~:text=There%20are%20three%20main%20processes,through%20which%20information%20is%20learned.

Cherry, K. (n.d.). Take a deeper look into human memory. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-memory-2795006

Mohs, R. (2020, May 29). How human memory works. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/human-memory4.htm

Categories
Health and Disease

Do Vitamin Supplements Work?

Introduction

Vitamin supplements are marketed to us as essential to our health. Many claim vitamin supplements make up for an unhealthy diet, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and improve your overall well-being. Some people have even said that taking vitamin supplements can prolong your life by a few years. The large number of vitamin supplements bought and sold, and because they are available everywhere, shows the influence of these claims on consumers. Do these miraculous pills actually work, or do health companies just want your money?

What are vitamin supplements?

Vitamin supplements contain various vitamins and minerals in addition to other ingredients. These supplements are available in numerous forms ranging from tablets, capsules and gummies to liquids and powders. Some common vitamin supplements include multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin B/ B complex. These can be easily found in any pharmacy, supermarkets, and through online websites. There are sixteen minerals and thirteen vitamins that a human body needs to survive. In vitamin supplements, these vitamins and minerals are derived naturally from foods or created synthetically in laboratories. Unfortunately, multivitamins are not regulated, and therefore the labels may not properly list the correct amount of nutrients you are receiving or may not even list the entire amount of nutrients. In addition to vitamins and minerals, multivitamins may contain spices, amino acids and fatty acids—though the quantity and number of nutrients may vary. It is important to remember that deception in labeling is widespread.

History of vitamin supplements

The use of vitamin supplements can be traced back all the way to the middle ages. In the middle ages, many sailors would suffer from a disease called scurvy. The cause of scurvy was related to the sailors’ diets. A discovery found that if the sailors ate oranges they did not have the disease. Now, we know that the vitamin C in oranges prevented scurvy in sailors. Since then, many advancements have been made and the necessity for vitamins and minerals has become clear. It is also clear that some people lack certain vitamins due to their diet and need alternate sources. In the United States, there was a large program to fortify milk and cereal with vitamin D, since there are limited sources of this vitamin. Large companies started to get involved and make multivitamins to be taken daily. A very popular brand is the Flintstone gummy vitamin, which is taken by millions of kids every morning. 

Do they work?

Some findings indicate that multivitamins are associated with decreased risk in heart disease, while others display no effects. Since heart disease is one of the leading killers, it would be a substantial breakthrough if vitamin supplements could reduce risk of heart disease. Another claim brought forth is that vitamin supplements reduce the risk of cancer. However, after lengthy trials the results were inconclusive. Some reports relate multivitamin use to a decreased risk in cancer, while others found little benefit—and some even say it produces an elevated risk. Taking supplements does have some benefits. Several studies have shown that multivitamins can enhance memory in older adults.These supplements can boost the mood. Analysis shows connections not only between bad mood and nutritional shortages, but also between them and improved mood or decreased symptoms of depression. In summary, vitamin supplements can boost memory and mood. In addition, antioxidant vitamins and minerals can help to delay the development of diseases that cause blindness. 

Can they be bad?

In short, yes they can be negative in some cases. While high doses of some vitamins and minerals are good, high levels of others can be harmful.To determine the dosage we can look at the indicator of solubility. There are water-soluble vitamins, which your body is able to clean away any excess amounts of. There are also fat-soluble vitamins. Your body does not have a way to reduce these vitamins, so it is unsafe to take large doses of this vitamin. Consequently, some of the most popularly taken vitamin supplements are fat-soluble such as vitamins, D, A, E, and K. Excess amounts of vitamin A are said to cause birth defects in children. One thing to note, is that it is quite easy to exceed the required level for a vitamin through a combination of diet and vitamin supplements. Another risk is defective production, which can allow multivitamins to produce even greater quantities of nutrients than expected. In conclusion, supplementation of heavy concentrations of certain nutrients can have adverse effects. 

Conclusion

While vitamin supplements can provide the necessary vitamins, the best option is to have a healthy, rich diet that can provide all the necessary vitamins. However, If you have a vitamin deficiency, it is better to replace the particular nutrient. Some groups of people that should consider taking vitamins are older people, pregnant women, vegans, vegetarians, and people with certain diseases. If you are not part of those groups and don’t have a horrible deficiency, it is better to consult a doctor before taking any vitamin supplements. In the long run, choosing to eat a nutrient rich diet of natural food will always be better than any supplement. 

Harshal Chinthala, Youth Medical Journal 2021

References

Do Multivitamins Work? The Surprising Truth – Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/do-multivitamins-work. 

Wiginton, Keri. “How to Pick the Right Supplements for You.” WebMD, WebMD, 12 Mar. 2020, http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/what-vitamin-should-i-take#1. 

Categories
Biomedical Research

How Does Sugar Influence Your Brain?

Introduction

Most of us enjoy a sweet snack once in a while. It can be very difficult to refuse sweets, especially during the holiday season. Even those who shy away from sugar consume more than they think since sugar is also one of the most prominent ingredients in refined foods. This is a huge problem, as our modern diet has an excessive amount of sugar. At first, sugar was a luxury item, only consumed by the wealthy and elite. Soon it became more common as it started to be added in beverages. Slowly more and more items were infused with sugar. This brings us to our modern 21st-century diet, filled with processed food containing heaps of sugar. This common item of sugar can have a huge impact on our health and well-being. 

Impact

Sugar influences your brain because it is an addictive substance. When you eat any substance it triggers certain responses in your brain. In the case of sugar, the signal stimulates the brain reward system; dopamine (a feel-good brain chemical) is emitted and the action is repeated, which makes us want to replicate it again. Over time, higher levels of the drug are needed to reach the same level of reward. Studies show that over-eating sugar results in a reduced incentive response and increasingly worsening addiction to low-nutrient foods high in sugar, salt, and fat. Companies are aware of this and use this to their advantage. Marketing food full of sugar to a person with a sweet tooth is what junk food marketers are trying to do. Getting the sugar will activate dopamine, a feel-good hormone in the brain that blends the carbohydrate with pleasure—makes the body more willing. That feeling-good feeling keeps you hooked on those things, which will give you immediate pleasure when eaten. Wanting to reiterate that enjoyment is normal, and this can lead to overconsumption of that meal. Reading product labeling is one of the easiest ways to track the consumption of added sugar. Pay close attention to the serving size. Products may list a small amount of sugar, but it is only for one serving size whereas we often consume multiple servings.

All of this sugar can have a very negative impact on your brain. In humans, high-glycemic foods have been shown to stimulate brain regions associated with reward responses and to induce more extreme feelings of hunger compared to low-glycemic foods. Foods that induce a higher rise in blood glucose have a higher addiction influence in the brain. New studies are showing that too much sugar slows your mental capacity. You feel more slow and lethargic, as the ability to process information is hindered.

There are also impacts on your physical health. Eating too much added sugar will raise blood pressure and increase systemic inflammation, all of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. Elevated blood glucose destroys blood vessels. Harm to blood arteries is the primary cause of vascular complications of diabetes, leading to other conditions, such as damage to blood vessels in the brain and retinopathy of the eyes.  Excessive sugar intake, particularly in sugary drinks, often leads to weight gain by tricking the body into shutting off its appetite regulation system, so liquid calories are not as fulfilling as solid food calories. That’s why it’s easier for people to add more calories to their daily diet as they eat sugary drinks.  

Solutions

There are various solutions to this problem. You can start cutting back on sugar day by day; experts recommend to keep sugar intake to around 7-8 teaspoons. This will lead to a reduced dependency as only a little bit of sugar will be enough to satisfy you. In this manner you can “retrain” your brain- it’s like using the same method that inversely caused the problem.  Of course, you shouldn’t eliminate this from your diet as it can provide a quick source of energy for your body and is a mood booster. Besides, some people find that as they cut sugary foods out of their diet it is replaced by other foods like refined starches, which are just as bad. A great solution is to replace sugary treats with fresh fruit like strawberries and watermelon. These fruits provide a sweet taste and are full of fiber, antioxidants, and other vitamins. In conclusion, a small snack every once in a while doesn’t hurt anyone, but it is important to be careful and watch your sugar intake.

Harshal Chinthala, Youth Medical Journal 2021

References

Joel Fuhrman, M. (n.d.). Understanding What Sugar Really Does to Your Brain. Retrieved December 27, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-sugar-affects-the-brain-4065218

Publishing, H. (n.d.). The sweet danger of sugar. Retrieved December 27, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar

Categories
Biomedical Research

How Does Blue Light Affect You?

Introduction

The advent of artificial light has given us a way to have light without relying on the sun. We use this light to our convenience when we spend the later hours of our day inside our homes with artificial light from electronic devices. As the sunlight fades, the body starts to change to a night-time mentality, where melatonin levels increase, body temperature decreases, sleepiness increases, and appetite disappears. Even if we don’t sleep, the time spent in this relaxing state is rehabilitative. However, our modern world brings trouble. We are bathed by lights that have the same strong wavelength as the light we wake up to. As a result, our transition to night mentality has been postponed by hours.  Using computers, phones, and other electronic devices exposes us to varying levels of light. One of these is blue light, which can have a range of effects on us. 

Overview and Effects

The spectrum of visible light contains many different colors of light, varying from red, orange, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Rays at the red end of the visible light spectrum have longer wavelengths and thus less energy. In contrast, rays at the violet end of the visible light spectrum have smaller wavelengths and more energy. Blue light rays that have the shortest wavelengths are sometimes referred to as blue-violet or violet light. Blue wavelengths are helpful during daytime hours because they stimulate concentration, response times, and mood. However, these same things are also stimulated at night, which is not beneficial. Namely, increased exposure to blue light from electronics and lighting at night can change sleep patterns.

Your sleeping pattern is determined by your circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour cycle of sleeping and waking. The length and time of this cycle determine many bodily functions. Everyone’s circadian rhythm is unique, but a few common trends are present. These are mainly the points that your body is optimized to throughout a 24-hour period. Light exposure, including blue light exposure, stimulates hormones that keep us active and awake throughout the day. When blue light is released at night, it blocks the release of melatonin, a sleep hormone that makes us tired. Disruptions in the circadian rhythm of your body can give rise to an array of sleeping issues. Overall, there are many negative consequences of a disrupted circadian rhythm.

Treatment

Exposure to light suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone that causes you to feel sleepy. Even dim light can interfere with the circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion of an individual. A mere eight lux, a level of visibility surpassed by most table lamps and about twice that of night lights, can have negative effects.  New studies show that exposure to blue light over long periods can lead to damaged eye cells. Light at night is part of the reason why so many people don’t get enough sleep. Even though the blue light you receive from a device pales in comparison to that from the sun, your devices are much closer to your eyes. There are some ways to reduce the negative effects of blue light. Beyond the 7 to 8 hours of sleep you’re trying to get every night, you can attempt to get three more hours of relative darkness. After dinner is a smart time to dim the lamps and avoid the bright blue screens. Further, you can replace lamps in your bedroom and bathroom with dimmer, longer-wavelength lights, start using blackout curtains to block the street lights that shine through your windows, and use an eye mask when it’s time to go to sleep.

Conclusion

Blue light is still necessary for us. It helps with our health by improving alertness, cognitive function, and brain health. The problem is that we are now interacting with unnatural levels of blue light, which can lead to health problems. One way to protect yourself is to use low red lighting for night lights because red light is less likely to change the circadian rhythm and to inhibit melatonin. You should also try and limit your screen time before you sleep and avoid looking at bright screens around two hours before bedtime. There are also many apps available that block blue light, such as the night shift setting. Your eyes are one of the most important sense organs, so taking care of them is vital and necessary.

Harshal Chinthala, Youth Medical Journal 2020

References

“Blue Light Has a Dark Side.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard University, May 2012, http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.

Heiting, Gary. “Blue Light Facts: How Blue Light Affects Your Eyes.” All About Vision, AAV Media, LLC, Aug. 2020, http://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/blue-light.htm.

“What Is Circadian Rhythm?” Sleep Foundation, OneCare Media, 25 Nov. 2020, http://www.sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm. 

Categories
Biomedical Research

What is the Microbiome?

Introduction

Microbes are small living creatures that are found all over us and that are too delicate to be seen by the naked eye. They can be found everywhere, on your water bottle, in the soil, in the air, and even inside your body. The human body is home to millions of these bacteria, also called microorganisms. Microbes can be split into six overarching groups: these include several species, including bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists, viruses, and other microscopic creatures. This population of single or multiple-celled species can be prokaryotes or eukaryotes, depending on whether they have a nucleus.

6 Types of Microbes

Microbes can be classified into six groups. The first of which are bacteria, which are usually unicellular, microscopic, prokaryotic organisms which reproduce by binary fission. The second type is fungi, which can be separated into yeasts and molds. Yeasts are typically unicellular, small, eukaryotic fungi that replicate asexually by budding. Molds are usually filamentous, eukaryotic fungi that replicate using the development of asexual reproductive spore. The third type is submicroscopic viruses, acellular infectious particles that can only replicate inside a living host cell. The fourth is protozoa, microscopic, eukaryotic organisms that lack a cell wall. And finally, the last group, algae, which are eukaryotic organisms that survive through photosynthesis.

Microbes and Humans

Since microbes are everywhere, humans have learned to live mutually alongside them. We offer them food and shelter, and they work for us. This partnership starts from the very beginning; as soon as we are born billions of bacteria cover our bodies. Mother’s milk, for example, contains special sugars that are designed to feed and sustain certain classes of microbes. Others act as a decoy, helping to amplify the immune response. In just around two years, a healthy community of microbes will have formed in a child. This is known as the microbiome.

The Microbiome

Each human being has its own special microbiome, composed of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other species. We have three groups of visitors, both on and in our bodies. There are good microbes, which aid in digestion and absorption of calories. A second type is silent travelers who do their own thing and are respectfully dismissed. They free up space by being there to keep more hostile intruders in line. We also have more dangerous ones. Such as those which exist in our teeth and will and erode our teeth if we do not brush them. The main functions of the microbes in our body include regulating the immune system, supplying nutrients to our cells, and avoiding invasion by dangerous bacteria and viruses.

Importance in the Body

At first glance it may seem like the microbiome does not play a big role in your body. However, this is wrong, as the influence of the microbiome goes very far. The response to certain things is determined by the microbiomes in your body, such as how different people respond differently to different foods. The species in our intestine feed on various things, some of the fibers and leafy greens, other sugars and starches, and some of them enjoy greasy food like butter. Our gut is like a garden in which we continually decide what is going to expand and blossom. If we eat good food, we breed good bacteria that prefer healthy food. If we eat a lot of junk food, we’re going to breed the microbes that enjoy fast food. If you choose to eat more healthy food, healthier bacteria will multiply. If you choose to eat more unhealthy food the unhealthy microbes will multiply. They will then send signals to your brain asking for more of what it likes.  Scientists have observed that 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. Other examples are bacteria that activate immune cells in the intestine such that they give a kind of alarm signal to the brain. Here, it stimulates immune cells that aid the brain heal from damage. New research is being done that even links microbes to behavioral patterns. In fact, in recent years, the gut microbiome has been linked to a plethora of diseases and disorders, from diabetes to autism to schizophrenia to obesity. 

Future Advancements

The future is uncertain as the new science surrounding the microbiome is still developing. Since the microbiome is linked to many conditions, there may be a way to create treatments by altering the microbiome. However, we need to figure out why some microbes are beneficial while others are not. The relationship between humans and microbes is one that has been fostered over many years. It is safe to say that we rely on microbes and they rely on us.

References

Harshal Chinthala, Youth Medical Journal 2020

Videvall, A., Brown, A., Xu, A., Shi, A., Jiang, A., Petrof, A., . . . Weiss, A. (2020, October 12). Microbiome. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from https://microbiomejournal.biomedcentral.com/

Davis, N. (2018, March 26). The human microbiome: Why our microbes could be key to our health. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/26/the-human-microbiome-why-our-microbes-could-be-key-to-our-health

Jesus, E., Lee, J., & Wilke, C. (1969, December 31). Microbes. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from https://www.sciencenews.org/topic/microbes

Society, M. (n.d.). Microbes and disease: Microbes and the human body. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from https://microbiologysociety.org/why-microbiology-matters/what-is-microbiology/microbes-and-the-human-body/microbes-and-disease.html

Categories
Biomedical Research

Genetic Engineering: Can Diseases Be Eradicated Forever?

Introduction

Since its discovery in 1973, huge strides have been made in genetic engineering. Some examples include arctic apples, mouse ear cress, and even onions that do not make you cry. Genetically modified food even comprises much of what we eat today, with roughly 60-70% of processed food in grocery stores containing genetically modified parts. However, some are still concerned about the potential consequences of this relatively new technology, as there are unknown side effects. Even though we constantly hear disturbing reports about genetically modified food, we barely hear something substantive about this exciting issue. Researchers have been looking into altering the genetic information of contagious diseases. These diseases have plagued the earth for decades, taking millions of lives along the way. Could the power of genetic engineering be used to eliminate them completely?

The Zika virus has spread exponentially across the globe, through mosquitoes. The virus causes horrific birth defects in pregnant women and weakens people’s immune systems by damaging nerve cells. There is no treatment available. Another virus that spreads in a similar way is malaria. In the salivary glands of a mosquito, thousands of sporozoites wait before the mosquito penetrates a humans flesh, they then move to the liver, while avoiding the immune system. They remain here in stealth mode for up to a month, eating the cells alive and creating thousands of copies of themselves. These diseases are a threat to nearly half the world’s population, and account for millions of deaths. What if you could use genetic engineering to stop the spread?

What is Genetic Engineering?

Genetic engineering, or gene modification, is the DNA alteration process in the nucleus of an organism. According to the national Human Research Institute, genetic engineering can be done by using recombinant DNA (rDNA) or DNA derived from two or more distinct species and then combined into a single molecule.This technology has been used to create things like safer lithium-ion batteries and crops such as Sweet Plum. Genetically engineered plants, known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), may be engineered to be less susceptible to disease or to suit particular environmental requirements. In addition to this, there are many genetically modified organisms, for example, mosquitoes that were modified in the lab.

How Can This Help Stop Diseases?

The particular virus of Zika is spread through the bite of a mosquito. The mosquito is the natural carrier for human pathogens that have been present for nearly 200 million years. There are trillions of them, and one will lay up to 300 eggs at a time. They’re virtually difficult to eliminate. In order to stop the mosquito the entire mosquito population must be re-engineered. This can be done using a new technology, CRISPR. CRISPR is an easy but efficient method for genome editing. It helps researchers to quickly alter DNA sequences and change the role of genes. It also serves as a tool to modify genes. This can be achieved by adding a cut or break in the DNA and by tricking the cell’s own DNA repair mechanisms into making the improvements that one needs.Through this genetic modification, scientists have successfully developed a strain of mosquitoes that are resistant to the malaria parasite by inserting a new antibody gene directly targeting plasmodium. This same theory could be applied to the Zika virus, or any other similar virus that relies on a host such as Lyme disease, sleeping sickness, and West Nile virus. These mosquitoes would never even carry the disease and millions of lives could be saved. On top of this, if the new gene becomes dominant over the next generation it will overpower the old gene.  If sufficiently modified mosquitoes were to mate with natural mosquitoes, the gene would spread very quickly. Thanks to this, 99.5 percent of all designed mosquitoes’ offspring will not carry the virus.

Concerns

There are still many concerns considering that CRISPR is a new technology. Critics of genetic engineering are vocal about the potential consequences such a move may have, such as potential environmental harm. Additionally, after the gene is edited, there is simply no way to change it back to normal; meaning that those consequences are there to stay if something goes wrong. There are simply many things that we do not know yet. Perhaps the worst-case situation here is that it does not work, or that the parasite adapts in a negative way. Finally there are ethical concerns, with people stating that genetic engineering is “playing with nature.” All of these factors make it unsure if this technology will be used.  

Harshal Chinthala, Youth Medical Journal 2020

References

“What Is Genetic Engineering?” Facts, The Public Engagement Team at the Wellcome Genome Campus, 17 Feb. 2017, http://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-genetic-engineering. 

Bohanec, Dr. Borut. “10 Successful Examples of Genetic Modification – Metina Lista %.” Metina Lista, 4 Jan. 2017, metinalista.si/10-successful-examples-of-genetic-modification/. 

Plumer, Brad. “How Widespread Are GM Foods?” Vox, Vox, 3 Nov. 2014, http://www.vox.com/2014/11/3/18092748/how-widespread-are-gm-foods. 

Vidyasagar, Aparna. “What Is CRISPR?” LiveScience, Purch, 21 Apr. 2018, http://www.livescience.com/58790-crispr-explained.html. 

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