My Response to “Botany of Desire”

In class, we watched Botany of Desire, a documentary that discusses human’s relationship with plants, from a plant’s point of view. Plants have always been known to conform to human desire. Plants fill the desire of beauty, control, sweetness, intoxication, and much more. Botany of Desire shows how humans are part of the web of nature by going to different parts of the world to explore interaction and history between plants and animals. Why are the plants that humans favor more desirable? 

I included this info graphic to summarize key points throughout the documentary!new-piktochart_22625440_45203aeb08ab85c7e2b7fa99c3531193f31b1437.jpeg

Botany of Desire starts its journey by exploring the forests of Central Asia, where the apple originated, then across the silk road and later reach America.  Apples have been known to satisfy one’s craving for sweetness- desire for sweetness is innate because it notifies humans that they are getting enough calories and are not poisonous. Sweeter apples also had better chances of reproducing in nature because bears would eat the sweeter apples and the apple seeds would be spread through the bear’s waste. The documentary mentions Johnny Appleseed, who was known for planting apple seeds. Apple seeds do not transfer genetic traits down to their offspring. These apples had very low sugar content and were often known as “the evil apple” because they were used to make hard cider. Later in the 1990s, people starting grafting which is cloning a plant by using its sprout.  Sweet apple trees took over and the apple was rebranded as a health food. While hearing this story, I thought back to the idea, “do we control plants to fit to our liking, or do plants adapt on their own and use humans as an advantage?” I think that humans and plants benefit off of one another. Humans do not control plants and plants do not evolve specifically to adapt to humans.

The next stop in the documentary is the Netherlands in 1637, where “Tulip mania” occurred. Tulips gardens became a symbol of wealth.. Broken tulips, or tulips that had multicolored petals, the most rare tulips, were considered the most beautiful and were the most desirable. Planting a tulip bulb (the part of the plant underneath the ground) is the only way to ensure that the tulip offspring will have identical traits to its parent.The Dutch became very successful in world trade for their tulip bulbs. People were paying fortunes for tulip bulbs that produced Broken Tulips, which soon lost their worth, leading to the end of of “Tulip Mania.” The tulip was blamed for the economic disaster. For this situation, I do not think that the Tulip had anything to do with its reproductive success, only the people did. Tulip mania shows how humans can affect the success of a plant, allowing Tulips to spread throughout the Netherlands and the homes of their trade partners. Without humans, Tulips would not have spread as rapidly because they occupied mostly home gardens. In the documentary, the phrase “exquisitely useless.” I think that this phrase shows how humans will invest in luxury, even if its only purpose is to be visually attractive. The Tulip was lucky to have been planted in various places, but the luck ended when Tulips were no longer a trend.

Botany of Desire also talks about Cannabis, often called “Marijuana” throughout the world. Cannabis produces a psychoactive resin called tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC.  Marijuana is illegal in most countries, however, it used to be used as a pain treatment for labor pains, rheumatism, and asthma. Marijuana soon developed a negative connotation, in 20th Century, Marijuana was smoked by Mexican immigrants.  The habit soon spread to the jazz community, becoming a large part of the 1960s generation.  The government forced Mexican pilots to spray Herbicide poison on the marijuana fields in hopes to end all Marijuana crops. Growers then decided that they had to grow indoors and in secret if they wanted to continue to have a profit.  The marijuana that has been growing was 12 feet tall so growers bred two strains that made the plants become shorter, faster, and grow stronger. Cannabis requires specific environments to produce THC, which demanded lots of time and efforts for growers.  Something I found really interesting, is how marijuana farmers specifically separated male marijuana plants from female marijuana plants. Female marijuana plants produce a resin that pollen (from male plants) to, so separating the male and female plants ensured that the female plants would produce more resin in hopes to attract pollen. This growing technique allowed growers to yield a more plant that had higher THC potency, making the crop more expensive. This process shows how humans are able to manipulate plants to their liking. Like the Tulip and apple, cannabis was changed and planted throughout the world to satisfy humans.

Another plant discussed in Botany of Desire was the Potato. The potato was a very practical crop that needed few people to tend to it, thrived in cold weather, and was a good food source Ireland became VERY dependent on the potato for food.  The Irish planted mone type of potato, AKA the “lumper,” which became a monoculture. A monoculture is when one species/plant/breed is planted at the same time. In  1845, a ship was carrying a fungus contained wind spread spores which spread through Ireland and killed all the potato crops. The famine killed 1 million people (1 out of 8 people in ireland). This example shows how humans have a large effect on plant populations, but also how nature can create changes beyond the human control.  Despite the Irish potato famine, the potato is still a common food in modern days throughout the world.  Each year, Americans consume about 7 and a half billion lbs of french fries. Fast food industry relies on the russet burbank potato, which is long enough to produce fries that fit America’s standards.  In the documentary, Michael Pollan states that “Monocultures of the plate lead to monocultures of the land.” This quote means that when humans have a strict desire for a particular food, then it greatly affects the crops that will be grown.

After watching the documentary, I reflected on how much society can affect the world around us. That may sound like something obvious, but human desires do influence plants. Nature may sometimes overrule human efforts, as shown during the potato famine, but plants and humans both affect one another in positive ways. Whether humans are manipulating crops, or seeds germinating in a foreign place, plants and humans will always rely one another.

AP Biology Exam Reflection

It is so crazy to think that we already finished taking the AP Biology exam! The exam felt like it snuck up on us…all of a sudden it was the month of May (I guess time does truly fly when you are having fun). Although I was very nervous about the test, I felt like I was very prepared once I opened the pages of the test booklet. The test consisted of a multiple choice portion and was followed by 8 free response questions. I was able to pace myself throughout the multiple choice section and finish answering each question. Pacing myself for the free response questions was very difficult for me because I spent too much time answering the first two long response questions. Unfortunately, I left one question blank and one question unfinished. Luckily, I skimmed through the shorter questions and noticed that the last two prompts were about material I was very confident on, so I quickly answered those first. My hand was very tired by the end of the test LOL, but the three hours honestly flew by and the test felt like it ended so quickly!  

Of course I am disappointed that I did not finish the short answer portion, but I am still proud of myself for everything I have accomplished this year. Each lab, project, class presentation, blog post and homework assignment all greatly contributed to not only my understanding of biology content, but improved my work ethic, time management, focus, and helped me become an overall better student and learner. Of all the classes I have taken at Notre Dame, AP Biology required the most effort and time, however it was most definitely worth it. The AP Biology exam was hard, but I felt proud seeing all of the knowledge I have gathered over the past year as I filled out my answers.

Placing the seal to shut the AP exam booklet might just be the most relieving feeling I have ever experienced. I must remember that there is nothing I can do to affect my score at this point, and that all I can do is wait to receive my scores. Until then, I need relax and enjoy my last few days as a high school biology student. If anything, biology taught me that it is possible to learn something new each day, and that learning is truly a gift. Even over summer vacation, I hope to learn something new each and every day!

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Reflection

Henrietta_Lacks_(HeLa)_Timeline_(26453304954).jpgImagine this- your family is struggling with monetary issues, you can feel your health quickly declining, and then scientists take your cells without consent and are making a huge profit out of your own cells. In the novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, written by Rebecca Skloot, an African American woman by the name of Henrietta Lacks, had her  cancerous tissue taken without her approval. These cells were studied by a John Hopkins gynecologist and were found to have the ability to multiply and live outside of her body. Henrietta’s cells (known as HeLa cells) created a huge profit for scientists because they multiplied indefinitely and were able to survive outside of her body. Unfortunately, Henrietta passed away at thirty-one years old. Her husband’s cousin and his wife moved in to take care of Henrietta’s young children; the couple ended up being very abusive to them. Her children later discovered that her mother’s cells were being studied and had made lots of profit for scientists, while her and her family were struggling in poverty.

I thought that this story was very well-written because it discusses important scientific content, while building an emotional connection between all the characters. An important theme highlighted in this novel is ethical issues regarding science. Since I share a love for science myself, I completely see why the scientist from John Hopkins wanted to take her cells…his motive could have been understanding the potential for a scientific breakthrough, possibly finding a cure for Henrietta, or even pure curiosity. The medical community greatly benefitted from knowledge about HeLa cells, however, it was very unethical for him to research the cancerous tissue without Henrietta, or her family’s, consent. Furthermore, the Lacks family is struggling to even find money to see a doctor, while scientists are profiting out of their wife/mother’s cells. In contemporary times, I am glad that it is very important and necessary that proper consent is required before scientists do any research using a sample from a human.

Overall, I personally really enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to anyone, science lover or not! Skloot does an amazing job and keeping the plot fascinating and makes you feel sympathy for the Lacks family. I suggest you read this book!!

Click here to learn more about Henrietta and the Lacks family!

Click here to learn more about the author, Rebecca Skloot!

Pillar Point Adventure with LIMPETS

 

unnamed-1.jpgAP Bio Rockstars took their knowledge outside of the classroom and went on a field trip to Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay. We were able to take part in citizen science with Limpets!

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We made sure to arrive at 12:00PM, just in time for low tide that day! Quadrants were carried out to a specific area to collect data about the different types of marine life. A Scientist, Monika, told us that the data we collected will be used by scientists to compare biodiversity over long periods of time! This data can show which species are thriving, growing, possibly endangered or recovering!

Organisms including sea anemone, chiton, sea urchins, sea snails, hermit crabs, mussels, barnacles and many different kinds of algae were seen in the tide pools! One of my favorite organisms was the anemone, which are cnidarian because they have many layers such as the epidermis, mesoglea, and gastrodermis (which is often used for digestion). Cnidarians often have tentacles. In this case, the anemone’s tentacles shoot out nematocysts which are small springing barbs that become activated through touch stimuli; this is a useful mechanism for catching prey! We tested out the nematocysts by gently touching the tentacles of the anemone and noticed that the tentacles stuck to our fingers and the anemone closed up! I think it is so interesting how anemones can have responses to touch stimuli without the use of a brain!

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Personally, I thought the best part of the trip was spotting the sea stars!! Two years ago, no sea stars were found because the sea stars were affected widely by sea star wasting disease. This disease is caused by changing water temperatures would cause the legs of the sea stars to melt off, which could potentially kill the sea star. However, it is very exciting to see that the sea star population is potentially growing and becoming more healthy! I hope that the environment continues to replenish itself!

If I was to name all the interesting facts learned, the organisms found, and the amazing sights seen during this trip, it would take much longer than one blog post! This trip was by far one of my favorite field trips that I have gone on in high school! I seriously recommend going to visit Pillar Point! Even if you are not very interested in marine life like myself, all the sights were very breath taking! Also, I was very pleased to know that the data we collected would be used to track changes in marine life over time, and that our simple task was helping a greater cause!

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Epigenetics- Ghost In your Genes

Epigenetics often refers heritable modifications in gene expression that are excludable from the original DNA sequence.Through previous understanding, traits have been inherited by an offspring through the both parents’ genome. Epigenetics explores how environment can have different effects of future generations. In the NOVA documentary, Ghost in Your Genes, various scientists from all over the world conduct studies on epigenetic inheritances!

A study mentioned in Ghost in Your Genes really shocked me; food patterns can have a possible effect on the health of offspring! A study conducted in a Swedish Village was based upon birth rates, mortality rates, and the harvests! The studies showed a pattern that supported that a famine could have an effect on later generations, even if they did not experience the scarcity of food. This interests me to know what habits of my ancestors could have possibly affected me.

Another study epigenetic study in the documentary was the study of identical twins. Even though identical twins have the same DNA sequence, they may grow up with differences due to environment. In a pair of identical twins, one twin had autism when the other twin did not. How could people with the same genome inhibit different traits? The answer is epigenetics!

To learn more about this fascinating study, I suggest you check out Ghost in Your Genes!

Find a Way – Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad’s mantra, “Find a way” was lived through her epic journey when she swam from Cuba to Florida. At age 60, Nyad was able to accomplish her goal through persistent training and by maintaing a positive, focussed attitude. She talked about many of her obstacles, one being how she had to swim in the pitch darkness of night because light would attract jellyfish! I was amazed by her constant perseverance and concentration, because even one of my fears (the dark) did not even faze her.

https://embed.ted.com/talks/diana_nyad_never_ever_give_up

Her outstanding story has inspired me to remain fixated on my own goals. One of my biggest desires is to travel internationally and manage health clinics in third world countries. To accomplish this, I must have a stable job to fund my trips as well as organize a team of doctors to travel alongside me. I am not quite sure if I want to be a doctor on the team or have more of an organizing role, but I am very sure that I want to be apart of a benevolent project with a goal of improving health of the in need population.

Traveling to developing nations has always been a passion of mine; I have already travelled to the TayTay Rizal in Muntinlupa, Philippines to do mission work at a school that my church founded. In that moment, I decided that philanthropic work would be a large part of my life. However, many factors are involved with humanitarian work such as monetary expenses, life experiences, and organization. I may have many years before I am able to live out my life dream, but I must focus now in order to prepare for my future. My goal may  not be a specific journey like Nyad’s, but it is important to have direction or aim in life.

Although my own dreams and aspirations are more of a continuous life goal rather than an athletic accomplishment, many of Diana Nyad’s words resonate with me deeply. In the Ted Talk, she quoted Socrates, “To be is to do.” This quote stood out to me because she talked about how she tells people, “Never, ever give up,” but that quote cannot be fulfilled if the “do” mentioned from the first quote is not done. One must not only talk about life intent, but must actually accomplish intentions set. Also, anything is possible if you “find a way” to reach your goal.
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Cracking the Code of Life Reflection

DNA, (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a double-helix shaped molecule that contains information about a person’s genetic information (hair color, height, skin tone, etc.) Knowing a person’s DNA genome sequence would be a breakthrough in science, in fact, this is what the documentary, Cracking the Code of Life was about.

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The movie covered two main groups that were involved in researching genetic codes, both racing to be the first to decode a full human genome. One of the groups, The Human Genome Project, was funded by the government and was devoted to decoding nitrogenous base pairs in order to provide information for genetic testing. The opposing group, Celera, is a private research company that also shared the motivation to decode a full human genome, but intended on selling the researched information for a profit.

The rigorous competition resulted in  quicker progress among both companies. Craig Venter, the face behind Celera, was able to find a much more efficient way of decoding genes than the techniques used in the Human Genome Project. Geneticists from the Human Genome Project used a technique called Gene mapping, where the geneticists would manually identify and write each nitrogenous base by hand, which was a very monotonous and time consuming process. On the other hand, Craig Venter was able to contact a company that created a machine that virtually decoded the genes. In response, the Human Genome Project decided to use more advanced technology to speed up their decoding process as well. I do not want to give away which company was able to finish decoding a full human genome first…you must watch the movie yourself to find out who wins! 🙂

Another feature of this movie is the exploration of various genetic diseases. The movie interviewed various families with members who have genetic disorders. Some of the disorders and diseases mentioned were Tay Sachs and Cystic Fibrosis. Genetic Disease, Tay Sachs slowly destroys a baby’s brain and may lead to blindness, deafness, muscle weakness, seizures, and is often very fatal. The movie told an in depth, heart wrenching story of a child with Tay Sachs disease.  Seeing the families situation of having a child with Tay Sachs made me think about how genetic testing could have prevented this. The movie also gives an overview of Cystic fibrosis, a fatal genetic disorder which affects the lungs and causes respiratory problems.  A woman named Toni Robbins has the disorder, except a mutation in her DNA was able to fight Cystic Fibrosis and ultimately saved her life. Toni Robbins’s situation made me intrigued to know if there was a possible cure to other genetic disorders by manipulating DNA similar to Toni’s.

Although limitless information about genetic testing may be beneficial, ethical issues also surface about manipulating Human DNA. Many may agree that understanding and then changing genes may be advantageous and lead to healthier people, however, modifying genes (even for benefit) does seem a bit unnatural. Personally, I believe that genetic testing should be made accessible to the public, but information about altering a human genome should be used very, very carefully.

Overall, I enjoyed watching Cracking the Code of life and am interested to if genetic testing becomes more commonly used in the near future. I also highly recommend watching the movie, when watching, I suggest you decide what your stance is on genetic testing and genetic modification!

Genetics Round Up!

Over Thanksgiving break, we were all asked to create a family pedigree that included our family’s health history. Thanksgiving was the perfect opportunity to not only catch up with family but to find out a little bit about what health problems our relatives have.

The family pedigree was a start to our new season, Genetics. We used interactive 3 dimensional Z Space desktops to learn about Gregor Mendel’s studies of pea plants. Mendel used pea plants to observe because they have easily distinguishable traits. He was able manipulate the pea plants reproduction by using a paintbrush to cross pollinate the flowers himself. The traits he studied included: tall versus short, purple versus white, and having the peas green or yellow. Through this study, we found out that each parent passed down 1 allele/factor to the offspring, two copies of information are carried in each trait. Mendel’s Law of Segregation supports that the joining of two gametes produces a new plant with two copies of information. Mendel’s Law of Dominance supports that the dominant trait will show through if a dominant allele is present. A recessive trait will only be visible if the organism has a homozygous recessive genotype. Mendel’s Law of Assortment supports that individual alleles must be split up, but can be passed down separately.unnamed-3.jpg

After knowing a background of how traits are passed down, we made a paper DNA model. The creation of the DNA model represented DNA replication. The ligase, an enzyme that binds the DNA, was represented by the glue. The scissors that split the two pieces of green paper, represents the enzyme helocase, which splits open and unwinds the DNA. The DNA polymerase adds each nucleotide and was represented by the action of us writing in each letter (A, C, G, and T). We also now understand that DNA is built from bond 5 to 3, but is read from 3 to 5. The repetition of writing and cutting really helped each of us grasp the process of DNA replication.unnamed-1.jpg

Genetics has been a season that each of us have been waiting for, and we all have had so much fun so far! Next week, we will be exploring different genetic disorders. I am very excited to continue this season of Genetics!

A Glimpse into a Possible Future

In class, we explored a game called “Face of the Future: A game about the Future of Empathy.” The game offers a scenario that occurs 10 years from now, allowing people from all over the world to interact and share their opinions and ideas on the scenario. People can post cards under “positive imagination” or “shadow information” where they display their perspective of the possible future, or can respond to the cards posted by others. I found the feature of being able to interact with people globally, very exciting because it was interesting to see the similarities and differences from minds of different cultures

To begin, we watched a video of different people using a social network called “FeelThat.” The “FeelThat” Network includes a device that a person would wear, allowing to them to send or receive emotions to and from other users who are also wearing this device. Through this device, one can sense another person’s feeling no matter where they are in the world. The device works by using advanced biological and neurological sensors, and relay messages to the other user. The “FeelThat” measures heart rate, blood pressure, amount of sweat on skin, and hormone levels. Similarly, the FitBit has already been invented, measures your biological functions, like heart rate and other factors similar to those used by the “FeelThat” Network. Devices like the FitBit make the possibility of sharing emotions through sensors, all the more real.  

Concerns I would have if this device was actually created, would be the effect on privacy. Contemporarily, keeping your life private is very difficult with all the social media that has been created. Thoughts and emotions are one thing that we can keep personal, just by simply not talking or mentioning about them. The “FeelThat” Network could potentially affect every aspect of privacy. Even though the network includes privacy settings, it is still possible that someone could hack the system and expose the user’s private emotions.  

Overall, I thought that playing the game was a positive experience and enjoyed interacting with different people. The concept for the device was very fascinating, but alarming to think that the particular invention could be made possible. I think that it was amazing how much this game connected to biology with the neurological sensors transmitting messages. Although this game relates to biology, one of the most relevant lessons I will take from this game, is being innovative during present times because we build the future. Another lesson that this game entails is that everything has consequences and to be careful about what you publicize because privacy is a gift.