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Interview with Neurosurgeon, Dr. Anand Veeravagu

In Senior Synthesis class, we were given the assignment to interview someone with our career of interest. I decided to share this video with my fellow biology lovers who may have interests in the medical field.

I interviewed Dr. Anand Veeravagu, Neurosurgeon at Stanford. I met Dr. Veeravagu at Stanford Univeristy’s event, Med School 101. Dr. Veeravagu spoke about the growing concern about brain injuries. I was very captivated throughout the entire presentation and immediately wanted to learn more!

Learning about Dr. Veeravagu’s path on becoming a Neurosurgeon and his overall career was so much fun! Talking to him definitely making me more excited about the possibility of pursuing a medical career.

Special thanks to Dr. Anand Veeravagu for taking the time to answer all my questions!

 

 

Wolbachia is all Around Us

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We have finally come to the last lab of the school year! 😥 It is amazing to see how far we have come! Our lab studied Wolbachia in insects. I have never heard about Wolbachia until this lab, and was surprised to find out how common Wolbachia is in insects all around us!

Wolbachia is genus of bacteria that infects mostly arthropods and some nematodes.  Wolbachia can be transmitted horizontally  or vertically from parent to offspring in the female’s eggs. Something I found very interesting, is Wolbachia’ special ability to alter the sex of  its host, which has given Wolbachia an advantage for reproducing. Altering the sex of its host gives Wolbachia an advantage because Wolbachia can only be passed down to offspring by females; males cannot pass down Wolbachia to their offspring. Infected females can only be only successfully reproduce with males that are infected with the same strain of Wolbachia bacteria.  The sex ratio distortion may have a negative impact on the host population because with a large female to male ratio, it can be presumed that some females may not be able to mate and reproduce.

While researching, I learned that Wolbachia is safe for humans and animals and is being studied for its properties that will help kill viruses in mosquitoes and stop viruses from spreading to people. Scientists are conducting studies on Wolbachia to help eliminate Degnue fever! Click here to learn more about Wolbachia’s role in fighting Dengue fever. 

The purpose of this lab was to conduct a DNA analysis to determine if an insect is infected by Wolbachia. We started by collecting anthropods and bringing them to the lab in vials that contained alcohol, and placed them in the freezer. Michelle and I shared an ant sample and collected its reproductive parts by crushing the ant’s abdomen. We had to then separate a segment of DNA from the rest of the bug. We then used the PCR machine to replicate segments of DNA.

Watch the video below to see how PCR works!

We used gel electrophoresis, a process that uses electricity to separate segments of DNA, to compare the samples to a ladder and positive control to see if Wolbachia DNA was present. If no Wolbachia was present, then there would be one mark shown on the gel. If the insect DNA sample did contain Wolbachia, then a second mark would appear. The ants that Michelle and I tested were negative for Wolbachia. Insects were collected from Burlingame, Brisbane, San Carlos, and Palo Alto. 4 of the insects contained Wolbachia, which mainly came from San Carlos! Mrs. Girard said that our class had the most insects with Wolbachia compared to years past, which most likely means that Wolbachia is infecting larger populations.

Aside from learning about Wolbachia, this lab allowed us to practice different biotechnology tools. I enjoyed using various biotech skill in this lab such as micropipetting, PCR, and gel electrophoresis. I PCR includes several steps, but my lab group and I made sure to work at the same pace to ensure that we were all on track! felt a little rusty picking up a micropipette again, but I was very excited to use it! This lab was very focussed on precision, so before we used to micropipette, we asked our AP Bio teammates to double check the measurements. My favorite step is the gel electrophoresis process because it is awesome to compare the different strains of DNA against one another! 

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This lab was so much fun and it reflects the entire dynamic of AP Biology class this year. It was awesome to look back and see how much expirience I have gained because of this class! I am very excited for labs in college, but I will definitely miss the fun, engaging, and safe space of the AP Biology classroom.

Round up 5/14- 5/29

The year is quickly approaching the last days of school. We have finally become AP Biology veterans!!!

This week, we each made videos giving our advice to the Future AP Biology Team 2017-2018. While creating my video, I was taken back to the first week of school. Mrs. Girard presented the videos from the year prior to us. It is crazy to think that WE are now making the videos for the next bio class. I talked about being organized being engaged, and being open-minded. I remember watching the videos from Team AP Bio 2015-2016, and almost each video mentioned to be organized. I am not very proud of this, but I have always been a messy person. I started the school year very organized and on top of my schoolwork, but would become more and more disorganized as time went by. I also noticed that drops in my grade correlated to my lack of extra efforts in the class. Although I did not mention this in my video, AP Biology has taught me that it is necessary to put in extra work to get the results you want. It may seem like there is a heavy workload for AP biology class, however, taking the extra step to research and study on your own will help you later. If you have a clear understanding of content early-on, then later material and concepts will make much more sense. This brings me to my next topic of advice, to be engaged. I was very intimidated when the year first started, I felt that I was surrounded by some of the brightest minds in the school, making me feel insecure and nervous to ask questions. I later found out that this is such bogus!! Yes, my AP Biology teammates are just as smart (or even smarter) than I have assumed and expected, however, each team member truly encourages one another and wants each person to succeed! It is fine to ask a question that may seem silly; chances are, the person sitting next to you is probably wondering as well. Participating in discussions (on Schoology, blog posts, and in class) will allow you to get more of a grasp on the content and make connections. I also learned that if I feel like I am falling behind, Mrs. Girard and my AP Bio teammates are willing to help me, as long as I reach out to them. My last tip was to be open-minded. As mentioned earlier, lots of things can make this class seem intimidating, and on top of that, many activities done in labs or on field trips may seem gross or weird! I learned that it is okay to be nervous. On our second field trip, we went to Pillar Point tide pools. A bunch of the girls in our class ran out and started different organisms, when I was set on making sure that my hands stayed dry. Sea anemones are cnidarians, which are aquatic vertebrae that eject nematocysts from their tentacles. When a person’s finger touches the anemone, the anemone responds by wrapping its tentacles around the person’s finger. I decided to try it myself, and although it felt weird, I am glad to say that I still tried it! Same goes with dissection. Many girls felt uneasy about dissecting the fetal pigs, but later ended up enjoying being the “surgeon” by making incisions and and locating certain body parts. I thought I would be nauseous during the dissection, but I ended up finding a great interest in seeing how the parts of the body connected, especially in a real animal. If I was not open-minded about dissections, I could have missed out on an amazing learning opportunity. To be open-minded is key, because you never know if you might enjoy something or learn something new.
I am very excited for those who are lucky enough to take AP Biology next year! For now, I will reminisce on the days where I felt very new to the AP Bio setting! It is such a great feeling to look back on the school year and remember everything I have learned; I hope the future Team AP Bio will be able to do the same!

Click here to check our my advice to the future Team AP Bio!

Some of my favorite memories from this year:

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The heart of a fetal pig!
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Pillar Point with LIMPETS

Dear Future Team AP Bio

The final days of the school year are quickly approaching! Throughout the course of this class, aside from gaining a deeper knowledge about biology, I learned lots about myself and my study habits! I had an amazing expirience taking AP Biology am so glad that I decided to take the class!

To excell in this class, you will have to put in lots of good effort and 110% dedication! If you will be taking AP Bio, I hope you are very excited!!

Here is my advice to those who will be taking AP Biology next year:

Should we Use Drones to Pollinate Crops?

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I read KQED’s Do Now “Should we Use Drones to Pollinate Crops?” I was immediately very intrigued by this article, the two questions came to mind: 1. Would this affect animals that already naturally pollinate plants? And 2. Why are drones necessary if we already have natural pollinators? Turns out that beekeepers have reported that there has been a 30% decline in the bee population per year! 😦  This annual decline has greatly affected us because not all fruits and vegetable plants can be pollinated, leaving farmers with a decrease in available produce. 43 of the top food crops are solely dependent on animals (mainly honey bees) for pollination!

Scientists are trying to find other means to pollinate plants. A scientist from Japan, Eijiro Miyako, designed a small drone that is able to pollinate plants. Like the honey bee, the drone flies from plant to plant and has a patch of hair coated in ionic liquid gel that the pollen sticks to.

When I read this, I was worried about our honey bee population! The 30% annual decline can eventually lead to honey bee extinction if something doesn’t change. I think that it is amazing that scientists area able to create technology that will suffice when nature does not. However, I personally think that efforts must be focussed on ensuring that the Honey Bee Population increases, rather than creating a device to replace them. I wonder how much the drone pollinator costs and how accessible it would be. Would the average gardener have a drone, or mainly farmers? I also am curious about how much the drone costs.

Overall, I think that the drone pollinator could be very beneficial! However, we need to look at the current state of the environment and the possible effects of using the drone pollinator.

Click here to read the KQUED Do Now!

Save the Bay Field Trip

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Today, Team AP Bio went to the Palo Alto Bay lands to meet with representatives from Save the Bay!The bay is composed of marshes and estuaries, which means that there is a mixture of both fresh and salt water, making the the bay a perfect habitat for lots of different wildlife. Unfortunately, in the 1960s, the San Francisco Bay was used as a dump site, and became covered in landfill.  Save the Bay is an organization that advocates against pollution and has a goal of restoring the San Francisco Bay back to its original state.

Our day was mainly focussed on collecting data about biodiversity, soil moisture, salinity, pH, and soil type of five different quadrants in the restoration site. We were introduced to a method for calculating biodiversity called Simpson’s Biodiversity Index, which is able to rate levels of biodiversity from 0 to 1 (0 represents very little biodiversity, 1 represents infinite diversity and is practically impossible to reach).  Through our data collection, we found that areas farther away from the water had higher levels of biodiversity.

Different team members each had an assigned job whether it be collecting data for soil moisture, salinity, pH levels, and qualitative soil type observations. My job was to find the pH level of the soil. To do this, I used a tool that was put on top of the dirt, which read the pH levels. Our data showed that the areas further away from the bay had lower pH levels (higher acidity). We believe that this is due to rainwater (more acidic) directly affecting areas towards the top of the incline.

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Not only was this field trip a very fun day spent with the AP Bio Team, but I was very happy to be working alongside Save the Bay. I truly think they have a very important goal, and that we must all be more mindful about how we treat our mother Earth before we have to face the repercussions of nature! One day, I hope to again visit the Palo Alto Baylands to see the progress of the restoration sites. I also highly recommend volunteering with Save the Bay!

Human Organs in Pigs…

When the idea that human organs could possibly be grown in pig bodies for medical purposes, my immediate reaction was sympathy for the pigs! However, I soon began to think of the many possible benefits of having organs genetically grown in pigs.

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According to U. S Department of Health and Human Services, over 119,000 men, women, and children are on the national transplant waiting list, another person is added to the waiting list every ten minutes, and 22 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant; the waiting list for an organ donation continues to grow. These statistics brought an issue to light: many lives had the potential to be saved, but lack of an available organ donor has put the number to a small minimum. Thus, KQED presented a possibility: live pigs could be used as the incubator for human organs.

Scientists have studied that it is possible to grow human organs inside a sow by using CRISPR gene editing (a gene that removes the gene specific to growing a pig embryo) and injecting human stem cells into a pig embryo. If successful, organs could be used for harvest and the wait list numbers would greatly decrease.

Although this study could potentially save many lives, growing organs raises many ethical issues. Some that concern me are: How accessible would the organs be and to who? (expense wise) Could pig’s possible develop human traits and intelligence? How could this potentially affect those who live a vegan lifestyle or avoid pigs for religious reasons?

Overall, I think this is a very interesting study that could possibly change the lives the population in need of an organ transplant! However, more studies need to be conducted before these methods are used.

Click here to learn more about growing human organs in pigs!

https://www.organdonor.gov/statistics-stories/statistics.html

 

 

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!