Mixed Species Embryos

Finding human organ donors for transplant is a matter of grave concern worldwide. Thousands of patients succumb to death waiting in line for organ donors. For years scientists have struggled to find alternatives and have chiefly resorted to stem-cell research hoping to grow human organs in animals such as sheep and pigs. However, the approach has not reaped any fruitful results so far.

Recently, however, scientists from various international institutes have attempted to create mixed-species embryos by injecting stem cells from humans into macaque (monkey) embryos. Monkey embryos are mainly used for this purpose because monkeys are genetically the closest to the human species.

Scientists injected 25 induced pluripotent stem cells from humans into 132 macaque embryos. The embryos were each 6-days old. All cells survived and grew inside the 132 embryos in the first 24 hours. After a lapse of 10 days, 29 embryos expired leaving only 103 chimeric embryos behind. By the 19th day, all except 3 chimeric embryos died, which too were terminated.

Researchers have marked this a great victory and believe that the rate the human cells grew inside the monkey embryos for the first 24 hours is remarkable and could be a great breakthrough in genetic engineering.

“This knowledge will allow us to go back now and try to re-engineer these pathways that are successful for allowing appropriate development of human cells in these other animals,” Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a genetics professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, and co-author of the study told NPR.

“We are very, very excited,” he added.

“Our goal is not to generate any new organism, any monster,” Belmonte told the broadcaster. “We are trying to understand how cells from different organisms communicate with one another.

All these experiments have led to promising results, as pointed out by the researchers.

Integration of the cells was not a challenge, but the survival was proving to be difficult so eventually the researchers investigated some new ways to conduct screening for drugs. This assisted in generating transplantable cells, tissues, and even organs.

Even though the idea is serving as a major breakthrough in the world of genetics, the experiment has already been tried before but with little success. In 2017, some scientists designed human-pig chimeras by introducing human cells into pig embryos. The cells were then incubated for a period of four weeks and just when they thought it would work, the number of cells grown proved to be insufficient.

This is why the researchers focused on producing a higher rate of growth.

The experiment does raise questions on ethicacy.  “My first question is: Why?” research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute Kirstin Matthews told NPR. “I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we’re just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do.”

Human Reproduction

Scientists warn that the world might become infertile by 2045 if we continue at the current rate. The last decade has seen multiple warnings and threats being issued regarding the fertility of the youth by the researchers and experts who have blamed artificial products for the rapid decrease.

Right now, environmentalists have categorized the use of plastic as one of the most dangerous practices observed globally that is assisting the process of declining fertility.

The Guardian published research conducted in 2017 by Shanna Swan, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York City about the fertility rate. The findings of the study focused on the sperm count among men in Western Countries and it was discovered that it had dropped by more than 50 percent over the last 40 years. 3 years later, Swan published a book titled Count Down that provides a detailed insight into how and why humans are not being able to procreate as efficiently as before.

“People are recognizing we have a reproductive health crisis, but they say it’s because of delayed childbearing, choice or lifestyle – it can’t be chemical,” Swan said to the Guardian. “I want people to recognize it can. I am not saying other factors aren’t involved. But I am saying chemicals play a major causal role.”

Furthermore, the Human Reproduction Update also released a study in 2017 that highlighted how the sperm concentration in men fell from 99 million per ml in 1973 to 47.1 million per ml in 2011. When you look at the statistics, you see a sharp decline of 53.4% in the sperm count in the western countries namely Australia, North America, Europe, New Zealand etc.

Swan, who has studied this issue profoundly says that one of the reasons for this steep fall is the chemicals that “interfere with or mimic the body’s sex hormones”.

“Phthalates, used to make plastic soft and flexible, are of paramount concern,” Swan said. “They are in everybody and we are probably primarily exposed through food as we use soft plastic in food manufacture, processing and packaging.” She further added that “They lower testosterone and so have the strongest influences on the male side, for example diminishing sperm count, though they are bad for women, too, shown to decrease libido and increase risk of early puberty, premature ovarian failure, miscarriage and premature birth.”

The solution to this problem is not quite simple. It has taken years and years of damage for the researchers to notice the significant decline in the fertility rate so it is not an issue you can get prescribed medicines for. Swan, along with other researchers considers it a threat to humanity because if the trend continues then the world would have fewer and fewer human beings by the end of 2045.

“The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” Swan writes in Count Down. She says that we need a complete overhaul of the chemical industry to reassess which products are actively harming the reproductive growth rate and people at least need to be warned about the consequences of the consumption of plastic.

DNA Mutation

While quantum physics deals with the study of bizarre behavior or matter on a subatomic level, scientists since the early 1920s have looked at how the quantum mechanics play a role in the living cells, thus introducing Quantum Biology, a relatively new field putting nuclear physicists, biochemists and molecular biologists together to understand the behavior of living cells at a DNA level.

A research paper published early 2021 in the journal, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics suggested that an unusual quantum phenomenon could be causing point mutations in the DNA structures.

Scientists at the University of Surrey’s Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Center used computer simulations and various quantum mechanical methods to study proton tunneling, a purely quantum phenomenon which occurs on the hydrogen bonds linking together the spiraling DNA stands.

Proton tunneling is when a proton from the hydrogen atom vanishes from one spot and reappears elsewhere. This can cause the atoms to occasionally be found on the wrong strand of DNA thus causing point mutations in the genetic code.

Even though these genetic mutations are usually short lived, and the DNA molecules readjust to their real order in a reasonable short amount of time, the scientists believe that some of these mutations could survive the DNA replication process inside the cells and possibly cause health consequences thus increasing the risk of cancer.

In a press release issued by the team of researchers, the lead author of the research Marco Sacchi said that many had long suspected that the quantum world which is weird, counter-intuitive, and wonderful plays a role in life as we know it. While the idea that something can be present in two places at the same time might be absurd to many of us, this happens all the time in the quantum world, and our study confirms that quantum tunneling also happens in DNA at room temperature.”

The scientists believe that quantum biology has a long way to go and there’s a lot more left for scientists to understand when it comes to studying the biological processes at a subatomic level, however, this recent research by the scientists at University of Surrey has proven the point that quantum mechanics are definitely at play on a biological level.

The co-author of the study and co-director of the Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Center, Jim Al Khalili, said that it has been thrilling to work with this group of young, diverse and talented thinkers – made up of a broad coalition of the scientific world. This work cements quantum biology as the most exciting field of scientific research in the 21st century.

Other scientists not involved in the study directly have labeled it as a massive step towards understanding quantum biology however, they believe that a much more improved computing power and methodology will be required to model entire DNA strands.

Artery Evolution

Recently, it has been found that, due to evolution, children are now being born with larger heads, with more babies now being delivered through C-section. Similarly, it has been discovered that humans are now evolving a new artery.

When a child is in the womb there is an artery called the median artery which is continuously transporting blood from the heart to the hands of the child. However after birth, usually this artery is replaced by two other arteries and this one disappears.

Now, by comparing ourselves to humans in the 18th century, there are more people today that still retain their media artery. This could be a way of saying that evolution is still taking place within the human body.

The author of this discovery, Maciej Henneberg, a specialist in anatomy at the University of Adelaide, says that this is an indicator that biological evolution is still ongoing within humans. If we were to quantify this, the researchers found, through cadavers and other means, that in the 1800s only around 10 percent of the total population retained the artery. However, when they studied people from the late 20th century, they found that around 30 percent of the people retained the artery. Through these numbers, researchers have concluded that this is the fastest way the human race has ever evolved in the past 250 years.

They also believe that if the trend were to continue, which generally should considering the principles of evolution, then the median artery which is right now an exception will become a norm and those with no median artery will become an exception. Even though this is a fascinating concept, it could have painful consequences as those with a median artery are more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome, which can be extremely painful.

The researchers think that change has been genetic due to maternal health issues or possibly due to the mutation of genes within humans. They think that by the year 2100 the median artery should become a norm rather than the exception that it is today.

Whether this would be a positive change or a negative change it cannot be said, however, this does show us proof of how fast human evolution has been taking place and how amazing the concept of evolution truly is.

Micro-plastics in Humans

When plastic was converted into a form that could be beneficial to humans, we all thought it was a great step forward. Plastic solved many different issues that we faced, from packaging, containers and much more, revolutionizing every single industry. However, what we did not count on was the long-term impact it would have on us as humans.

For years now, scientists have been warning us about climate change and the impact of greenhouse gases as well as the fact that plastic does not degrade. However, we did not listen and kept on creating more and more products using more and more plastic. Eventually, it has come to a point where micro-plastic are now evident within human bodies.

A group of researchers who have been studying plastics and the impact they have on the human body, found nano-plastics in all 47 samples they tested. These samples included various human organs such as the kidneys, lungs, spleen, and more.

In the long term, plastics have become more of a threat to us than a benefit because of the negative environmental impact they have created. Scientists predict that if things keep going the way they have, chances are that Earth will become uninhabitable very soon.

In the samples tested through a mass spectrometer, they found traces of polycarbonate (PC), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polyethylene (PE) which are all commonly used plastic products in our daily lives. Bisphenol A (BPA) was also found within the samples, which is a common ingredient within food packaging.

Humans, however, are not the first to be found with plastic in their bodies. They have already been discovered in the sea life and seafood we eat. They have even been found in the deepest parts of our oceans.

The research has been building upon previous studies which had already demonstrated that in Germany, 97% of the blood and urine samples which were collected from 2500 children showed traces of plastic in them. At least 17 contained toxic levels of plastic products or byproducts. Another study also showed similar results, in which human stools were tested. It was found there were 20 particles of plastic to every 10 grams of human stool.

The research did take note of the donor’s history and background. This then will help them recognize through the lifestyle they live, what the route and cause of this plastic coming into the human body is and how we might be able to avoid it.

Researchers are unsure of the actual impact plastic can have on human health, but they do not seem optimistic.

Population Decline

Contrary to the widespread perception of overpopulation that will in turn lead to the exhaustion of the earth’s already scarce resources, the recent statistics show otherwise. In recent years, there has been a shift in the number of babies people are having and the rate is only decreasing. With education and awareness and also the transition of more women now entering the workforce prolonging their career paths paired with the increase use of contraception and a drop in fertility rates, the natural population is witnessing a steady decline. By 2040, some major nations like Italy and Japan are expected to witness a decline in population by half.

A population decline might seem like good news as it will reduce the negative impact on the environment and improve the division of the scarce resources among the available population, but there are several aspects that are a downside to it as well. For instance, with fewer younger people and a large number of older, the economic policies will have to be rethought. With fewer working age people, it will likely cause a negative impact on the overall GDP. This could result in a major concern for many nations as they will have to come up with well devised policies to counter these rising issues and changes in the population. The major challenge will be the huge burden of the increased need for healthcare and social support systems for the aging population.

The decline is nearer than we think, so it is vital for nations to start preparing now, before the situation actually proves to be a major problem. With the increase in aged people, it will be essential for nations to focus on increasing and improving healthcare facilities and hospitals as well as social support. The demographic change that will occur requires a lot of consideration. Will people be expected to work past their retirement age? Who will take care of all the old people? Will people just keep on working until they die? All these questions and more will have to be answered to ensure that this shift in the population structure is countered intelligently.

However, it is still unclear how the world will adapt to this major change. Overpopulation and increasing growth has always been a major problem but a shrinking population will also have an extremely harsh impact on humanity and whether or not we will prosper.