Biology NYA Justine Bell

About this class

Intorductory Biology covering:

Evolutionary Theory

Cell theory


Diversity and Classification of life






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4 années 14 heures ago

Wow thanks, I appreciate your commentary. I find it smooth that you included some current humanities teachings into this post, great way to blend multiple subjects hahah!

4 années 14 heures ago


I want to congratulate you for your excellently composed text and to further the discussion you engaged on alternative ways to produce food.

As you pointed out, the global population is steadily increasing and little effort are made to improve or question our costly food production methods. Feeding animals with insects and algae could lead to striking advantages: it reduces land and energy use, which in turn decreases deforestation.

However, as you wrote, these production methods raise ethical concerns in addition to missing the problem that they are trying to solve. Although feeding animals with bugs and algae can decrease pressure put on ecosystems, the most effective way to reach this goal is to actually decrease meat production itself. Indeed, animal feeding involves transfers of energy between different trophic levels. For instance, plants must be used to feed insects, which are then eaten by animals intended for human consumption. Since each organism in this chain has used some energy in order to fuel its cellular respiration, most of the energy harvested from the previous trophic level is dissipated into the environment as heat. Only a fraction is transferred to the other level. Therefore, meat is a very resource-costly product since an initially great amount of energy ultimately produces a small amount of food. Agriculture could be made more ecological if it involved as little energy transfers as possible.

As you said, one really effective way to decrease land use would be to drastically limit meat consumption and to rely on food that requires less energy to produce, such as plants, algae, or even insects. If people could put their disgust aside for the third case, producing food would take less space and become more ethical.

New techniques in agriculture that employ insects differently to limit land use and preserve ecosystems are also being developed. One of them involves planting rows of wild plants around cultivated areas in order to attract different types of animals that are beneficial to the crops. For example, pest predators settle down in those “wild zones” and hunt down harmful insects, which decreases pesticide use. It also raises biodiversity levels by providing habitat for different organisms. That kind of resource-wise innovation combined with a change in our diet could be, I believe, much more efficient on the long-term to decrease environmental pressure than relying on alternative food sources, which fail to address the issue directly.

You can learn more about this technique on a publication written by Devika G. Bansal, available on Scientific American:

For the explanation on trophic levels, refer to:
Raven, H. Peter, Jonathan B. Losos, Kenneth A. Mason, Susan R. Singer, George B. Johnson. Biology, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.

4 années 15 heures ago

I find your summary very interesting and it convinces me to read your article! The subject of the article is very well chosen. More precisely, the idea of brain transplantation is a bit frightening and unbelievable to me. As you said in your summary, Dr. Canavera has to transplant a brain-dead donor's body with the head of a patient with an insensible body. I did some research on hand transplantation on YouTube to see what it looks like and I realize that it is possible, but the result is far away from perfection. After months of rehabilitation, the hand is still not agile as a normal hand. Imagine how it would be difficult for a patient to learn how to control an entire body. Furthermore, I found an interesting article with more precise information on the surgery from the National Post, "Meet Sergio Canavero, the brain behind the world's first head transplant, and, perhaps, the key to everlasting life". In this article, it explains that the surgery will last 36 hours and will implicate around 150 people. Also, to cut the head from the patient by minimising damages to the head and the body, surgeons will use a special custom made diamond blade called the GEMIN-o-tom! The surgeons will have less than one hour to connect the head to the body which seems to be almost impossible to be me. Finally, even through the probability of success is very low, from an ethical point of view, I think that it is morally acceptable to do the head transplantation, because the candidate who receives a new body agrees to the procedure and have rational thoughts since he is a 31-year-old Russian computer scientist, Valery Spiridonov. Therefore, he is used as an end and not as a mean. In addition, from an utilitarian point of view, the research on head transplantation will lead to further scientific improvements in the domain of health which people can benefit from.

4 années 16 heures ago

Hello langm349,

This post is very interesting. I never thought obesity would be related to genetics and thank you for making me discover that.You summarize very well the article but maybe separating your post into paragraphs would have convinced me even more to read it.

Even if obesity has a big genome component, I think that people should see the facts that choosing a good lifestyle is still what is mostly going to determine if one is obese or not. I think your post is excellent in explaining why certain people would be more affected than others–that, according to the study mentioned in the article you summarized, those who had the SEMA4D gene variation had on average 6 pounds more than the ones who did not have it. Although this is a major scientific advancement, I am scared that people might use it for the wrong reasons; that if they are obese, they will think that it is because "They were born this way". Wouldn't you agree?
Well, that was what I thought before I saw this article and the video at the end of it:
This Australian article mentions that diets can be useless when it comes to some people who are obese and that it is not a choice to become "fat". In fact, 20% of Australians cannot get rid of their obesity no matter what they try to do. Dr. Rauchberger states in the video that obesity is a genetic disease and not a lifestyle choice which contradicts exactly what my initial thought was. Yes, DNA samples of Dr. Rauchberger's patients have helped the doctor determining specific diets according to their unique DNA. It is called a personal DNA test and they are available in different Australian pharmacies. Its procedure is explained by Dr. Rauchberger as this: "When you get a personalized report, it will say based on your genetic profile, you should go on, for example, a high protein diet or it might say you should go on a low-fat diet or a diet that is rich in Mediterranean food." This also exists in Canada (there is a DNA testing centre even in Montreal!), so it is easily accessible in big cities. The audio, video, and article are so interesting and I think you should take a look!

4 années 16 heures ago

Great title, instantly catch the eye. Good summary of the article, however, I would have liked to hear from all of the benefits of that plant. Give one or two examples just so the reader can have an idea of it's properties (environmental and medical). Same goes for the issues of farming for that plant. I like the link you make with other articles from that same website, it pushes the reader to read more. Overall it was a good article, I simply wish there was some more information on the plant itself. Here is an article you might be interested to look at. It talks about how to prevent more carbon emission by using lands more effectively. I think it links to your article because it talks about how plants can have an effect on the environmental changes in the world and both your article and this one are good ideas.

4 années 17 heures ago

Hi Enya!

I was really curious when I read your title and you increased my curiosity once I read your commentary about the article. Actually, this one didn’t disappoint me. I thought your comments were really completed and precise, which led me to the point that I wanted to know more about the Zika virus. I firstly thought that its situation was really ironic. Then I understood that it was attacking cells, and so for the virus it does not make any difference; the consequences about which cell it attacks only make a difference for us.

Therefore, I like the article that you are proposing, because it made me learn something new. Also, I found it very relevant to me, since I know many people that have or had cancer. Hence, I think that you had a good idea to share the article, because it touches a large amount of people. I think it is an effective way to give hope to those who need it.

By staying in the same subject, I found some articles that may interest you. The first one also comes from the New Scientist journal, but it has been published after your article. To make a short summary, it talks about a specific patient who has a chronic pancreatitis- an inflammation of the pancreas-, which is a factor risk of cancer. This type of disease causes a lot of suffering for the patients. We also know that the cancerous tumors spread out into the body by using our nerves. Including to that, our nerves make the tumor maturing. This process is well explained in the article. Thus, they found a way to stop the suffering and the growth of the tumor by "cutting" the nerves already touched. The effect is a longer and painless life for the patient.

First article:

The second article has been published by the Scientific American journal recently. It is about the recent approval of the FDA – Food and Drugs Administration – a new treatment against cancer. The treatment consists to displace the white blood cells to the tumors. The article informs us about the process, but also on all the pros and cons. What I also find interesting is that we can get inform about the folder of the treatment (the cost, when it is going to be available, etc.). I think it is great to stay aware of that type of information, since cancer is a disease that takes a lot of place in our society.

Second article:

Hope you’ll enjoy!

4 années 19 heures ago

I really liked your post because it is interesting to know that dog have more in common with humans than we thought. The fact that you used point form to explain how dogs connect to humans is very smart because it allows the reader to understand the concept easily. I suggest you to read the article '' How beagles and goldens could help researchers find the next cancer therapy for humans'' written by Usha Lee McFarling and published in the scientific magazine Stat. In this article, the author compares dogs and humans in a biological way. In fact, the veterinarian Dr. Michael Kent mentioned in this article is writing a paper on the use of dog's natural killer cells to attack a cancer that is similar in dogs and humans. One interesting thing that the doctor said is: ''for a long time, we’ve looked at humans to see how to treat dogs. We’re starting to do a little bit of the reverse now.'' This claim shows that doctors are starting to progress a different way in medicine by using dogs. Another veterinarian, Dr. Kathryn M. Meurs, also uses dogs, for another purpose. Indeed, Meurs wants to understand why people in the same family with the same ''inherited genetic defect'' exhibit the disease differently. She finds it easier to study this phenomenon with dogs because they can have a lot of offspring in the same litter. The author points out that dogs and cats cancers '' are more biologically relevant to humans than the cancers that are artificially induced in lab animals'' because of the fact that they happen spontaneously. This article is very interesting because it compares a lot the human biology to the dog biology and explains why we can use dogs to find some treatments.

4 années 19 heures ago

Hello Willg20,

You wrote a really good post and a very compelling one as well! I find it interesting how you started off your post with a question, it really grabbed my attention and made me think about your topic. The way you formulated your title as a question made it intriguing as your title raised my curiosity making me wonder if we can really perform gene editing on humans. In addition, I like how you gave a brief definition of CRISPR, giving the readers an insight of what it is and keeping it simple which allowed us to have more understanding about your topic. The way you linked human gene editing and butterfly gene editing was done smoothly. The comparison really helped me understand how scientist would be able to edit human genes by succeeding at editing butterfly genes which is an amazing discovery. The picture you added from the article is very fascinating and gives us a nice visual idea of the gene affected by the CRISPR. At the end of your post, you included the advantages that might occur with human gene editing that could possibly save many lives. This caught my attention as the medical field is always trying to improve their techniques to cure more diseases and the fact that gene editing could also open doors towards new cures is very eye catching.

Actually, I found this article which discusses gene editing as well and figured you might be interested! It talks about the risk that could occur if we decide to edit embryos as gene editing still isn’t a technique that scientist have fully mastered. It addresses the risk of “off-target effects” which basically changes other genes besides the one that were desired which could be harmful. Thus scientists suggest that gene editing should be performed when the benefits would be able to outweigh the risks. However, this technique could be allowed in the future if it is used properly and allowed by the general public.
If you’re interested in reading the article, here is the link:

-Celia Cai

4 années 21 heures ago

Hi Gonzalo,
I really like your article and I think it is eye-opening to find out that there is a tertiary smoke to cigarettes. Knowing that this third-hand smoke is also a source of diseases for cigarettes' smokers and their entourage is frightening. we knew for a long time that cigarettes were bad for our health but I personally did not know there was even more effects that I thought.
I think your article is well structured but I think you should have explain what are the primary, secondary and tertiary smokes. Not everyone is aware of this and your article you make more sense to a larger audience.
I did a bit of research on this subject and if you are interested could take a look at what are the different smokes emitted by the cigarettes. I found this short and sweet article and I think it does a great job at explaining this phenomenon:
I would love to read more of your work and learn from it. Keep up the good work.
Benjamin Hotte

4 années 22 heures ago

Hello Justina!

I was very interested by your article. The discoveries the scientific community can make by observing other organisms, such as butterflies, could revolutionize science and the medical world.

Your commentary was useful and gave me the desire to read not only the article mentioned in your post, but also more about the subject. Reading about gene programmation in butterflies that influence the colour of their wings instantly made me wonder of a world where parents “program” their babies in order to reduce their risks of disease and even, perhaps, their physical appearance.

However, this thought process unconditionally raises a big ethical question. Would it be ethical to modify human genes, as we do with much of the food we consume? I did some research in order to learn more about the risks of genetical editing.

First, I got informed about the technique mentioned in your article, called CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic repeats. This technique uses the process of DNA reparation in cells to add-in or remove specific genes. Using CRISPR is not only simple and efficient, but also inexpensive. It is accessible to practically any laboratory in the scientific world. Researchers have the goal to use this relatively new technology to modify genes in embryos in order to cure diseases and modify mutations. To read more about the subject, I recommend this article, from SAGE:

As one may presume, genome editing in embryos causes a lot of ethical debate. Until recently, only unviable embryos could be “genetically edited” for scientific research. However, in July 2017, the first viable embryos’ genome was edited, in Oregon, using CRISPR. This was done effectively, and few mistakes were made. However, once again, this created big ethical discussions worldwide. Many people are scared of what are called “designer babies,” referring to a world where parents would “design” their babies by modifying their genes until they become “perfect” to their eye. However, genetically edited embryos are not yet transplanted in placenta, and do not develop into grown humans. Many changes in regulations and laws must be done before this can happen. To read more about the subject, you could read this article from Business Insider, which describes the first genetically modified embryos and the risks behind genome editing:

All in all, I really enjoyed reading your article. Although it only discusses the colour of butterflies’ wings, it links to a much bigger issue. The small discovery of a gene that dictates the colour and design of butterfly wings could have big impacts on the research on gene editing. Thank you for your article!
Simon Saad

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About the author

I was born and educated in Oxfordshire in England, and did a B.Sc. in Genetics at the University of Edinburgh. I was lucky enough to be able to do my Honours thesis with the group that cloned Dolly the sheep.