Thursday, August 25, 2016

More Efficient Than Nature

Wow, this, I guess like every other article I have read so far, is so cool.  I love the idea and concept of a bionic leaf, even if I have sliiiiiight PTSD from the photosynthesis and cell respiration unit--trying to keep all the details of each process straight and separate from each other was hard!  I am realizing that I definitely need a good refresher on all of that though, because when I read that the water-splitting molecule in this artificial process is an alloy of cobalt and phosphorus, my immediate thought was, how does that compare to the water-splitting molecule in natural photosynthesis?  But I couldn’t remember what that molecule is, or if we even learned what it is.

I found the whole idea of being able to take a natural process and tweak things to make it more efficient to be very interesting.  I guess the purpose of this process is different from that of natural photosynthesis--generating alcohol instead of ATP--but it seems like nature would want to be as efficient as possible.  So why isn’t natural photosynthesis more efficient?  Why is it that with a little (or maybe a lot) of messing with nature, scientists were able to make a process ten times more efficient?

Some of the other questions I had were more basic, like what does the bionic leaf look like?  I always find being able to visualize something to be helpful in remembering it, but there was no image of the leaf.  At first I was picturing a leaf that is bionic, but then read in the article that it is called a “leaf” because of its “melding of biology and technology.”  I figured the biology part was the whole idea of using a process similar to photosynthesis, and that it ended there, meaning it probably doesn’t actually look like a leaf.  But I decided to look it up on Google Images just to make sure, and in all the pictures I found, it looked like a little bionic leaf, just as I had originally imagined!  This leads me to wonder, where are these leaves going to be used in our society?  Are we going to start having artists make tree sculptures in cities so that these bionic leaves can be attached to them?  That would be cool!  Or would it be more productive to just make large panels and put them on the roofs of buildings and in fields, like we do solar panels?  If the desired end result of this leaf is alcohol that can be used for fuel, is it going to be produced in liquid form, because it would be at air temperature?  If so, where is the liquid going to be collected?  In little individual compartments for each leaf, or would there be a way to pipe it to one larger tank? I’m very curious as to how these leaves are going to be incorporated into society.

Monday, August 8, 2016

First of all, just because I thought this was great, I want to share how my dad picked up this article, read it, and then kept asking again and again whether I had read it yet.  I guess I know where I get my fascination with biology from!  Second of all, CRISPR sounds like something to do with keeping salad greens fresh.  It is obviously an acronym for something important and relating to the process, but still.  
Ok, now down to article.  The genetics unit was my favorite; I loved how everything went together, how everything to do with how we operate is encoded in our DNA, and how we are still making new discoveries every day.  It just amazed me--and still does.  It is crazy to me, but also at the same time expected, that we can now edit DNA.  (It seems like it would be possible when I think back to the way DNA is unwound and replicated that at some point during that time we would be able to go in there and edit the DNA.  I’m not sure that’s when this gene editing would actually happen, but that would be interesting to know.)  I was wondering when this time would come, but now that it’s here, it’s still hard to believe.  
This whole advancement is incredibly interesting (WE CAN EDIT THE MOLECULE THAT DICTATES WHO WE ARE, WHAT?), but I found it especially so that NYC researcher Timothy Chan says that taking cells from the site of the tumor specifically would improve the method’s effectiveness, as these cells would already specialize in attacking the cancer.  I guess that makes sense, but I would love to know more about why and how that works.  I also found it interesting how involved China is with anything to do with gene editing and how quickly the nation moved ahead with this project.  It’s honestly kind of scary, and I have to wonder how meticulous they were when looking into the safety of the process and the possible side effects.  
So yeah, it’s insane and awesome that we can now edit our genes to delete one and perhaps cure cancer, but I also have worries, and being a bit of an anxious person, these stand out to me.  The issue of editing DNA in the wrong place (apparently a “well known” danger--eek!) is taken care of, because the cells will be examined before being inserted back into the patient, but other problems have not been resolved.  It sounds to me like the PD-1 gene is responsible for preventing cells from launching all-out immune responses and killing healthy cells, and so the fact that the goal of this gene editing is to remove this gene makes me concerned.  Does this mean that our immune system will no longer have limits and will then go kill healthy cells?  Chan has also expressed his worries regarding this, that the immune system will attack “the gut, or adrenaline glands or other normal tissue.”  Would this happen instead of killing the cancer?  Alongside killing the cancer?  After the body has done its job and the cancer has been wiped out?  And since gene editing is passed on to the next generation, what kind of implications would that have?  Would this mean that the next generation’s immune system would not be controlled?  I can only imagine that wouldn’t be good.  
Along slightly different lines, another question I have is what other genes the U.S. will be using in their pending trials, as they said they will be using the gene for PD-1, as well as knocking another one out and inserting a third, and why they are using these genes.  
This is a scary process and I can’t help but worry about the possible negative side effects, but I think that this is largely the case with any new idea.  Of course there are going to be issues with it, but will they overwhelm the positive effects?  That’s what we have to find out, and it sounds like we will be finding out soon.