AP Bio Exam Reflection

With the current state of the world, it seemed strange to have been doing the AP exam. Even with all of the modifications to the format of the test to be taken at home, there was a strange sort of unease about sitting down to take a standardized test at the same time as thousands of other students across the country after not having been in school for over two months. The test itself was overwhelming to look at at first. Blocks of text, graphs, and a ten part question, all just in the first section. After the initial panic wore off, I went through the different parts of the question, trying to fill in the ones I could easily answer first, and then taking time to fill in those that required a bit more thought. In this first section, I only completed 8 of the 10 questions before I had to submit what I had. Being more prepared now, I was able to complete all of the second section, which only had six parts. Still, the AP Biology exam seems to me like the most difficult of the three AP tests I took this year, even with the modifications.

I know I did my best, and the outcome is not necessarily a reflection of everything I learned this year. I still feel it may have been helpful to have been more prepared for the type of question that was going to be on the test, but I am glad that the test is over and that I have had the experience of taking the first at-home AP test ever administered.

Season 10: Body Systems

Our body is composed of many different intricate systems, each working together with the others to maintain homeostasis, or stability, in our bodies. Take a look at this infographic to learn more about these body systems and how they are all connected to one another:

Team AP Bio’s understanding of animal body systems was further enhanced by our virtual fetal pig dissection. Though we could not be in the classroom to dissect the fetal pig ourselves, we utilized the technology available to us to watch and explore as Mrs. Girard dissected the pig over Zoom.

AP Bio fetal pig dissection Zoom setup.
Exploring dissection.

Although it was difficult at first to watch the dissection of Mr. Wow (our pig), as we explored the structures of the different body systems, it became easier to stop seeing the process as nauseating and more as a learning experience. It was interesting to see how all the organs are physically connected inside of an organism, and was especially fascinating because of how similar pig systems are to human systems. The heart was the most exciting part to look at, since it is often difficult to visualize how such a small muscle is able to pump blood to the entire body.

This season has left me wondering about how different failures in body systems can be treated. What if a part of the nervous system stops working? What about the excretory system? What kinds of treatments exist and what are some treatments currently being researched. Body systems are so complex and important, and I can’t wait to see what developments we make in the future to further understand how we function.

Earth Day 2020

The Earth is a beautiful and vibrant place that never stops moving. It is home to 8.7 million known species and is an incredibly resilient planet that has lived through extinctions and meteor showers, and has seen every coldest night and every hottest day. Today, on April 22nd, we dedicate our day to thanking everything the Earth does for us and reflect on how we can work to make the world a better place and give back to our amazing planet. Below is a video of how I appreciated nature today.

We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to restore our planet and fix the harm that we have done. Jane Goodall, one my personal heroes has just released a new documentary about climate change and the work that she has done since her research in Gombe.

Take a moment today to give back. Appreciate the Earth and everything she does for you. There truly is no Planet B.

Botany of Desire

Take a moment to think of every plant in your household. Perhaps you have some basil in a pot on your windowsill, or a vase of flowers on your table. Think of the grass in your yard and every tree. Think of the fruits and vegetables in your refrigerator, or the lemons and bananas on your counter. Who is in charge of the relationship between you and these plants? You may think you are in control of these plants, but a documentary by Michael Pollan reveals otherwise. Team AP Bio recently watched Botany of Desire, which covers the relationship humans have with four different plants: apples, tulips, cannabis, and potatoes. The study of each of these plants reveals that plants have actually used humans and catered to their desires in order to spread and grow.

The first plant covered in the documentary was the apple tree.

Apples have long been a part of American culture and are a staple fruit in most any household. The apple actually has its roots in central Asia, in Kazakhstan. The apple tree eventually spread to Europe, and then the Americas. Apple seeds contain lots of different genes, so each new apple tree produces a different kind of apple, which is a great way for apples to maintain biodiversity. However practical this kind of genetic diversity may be for apples, humans prefer to be able to have lots of one kind of plant. If a certain kind of apple growing on the tree is preferable, humans can recreate this exact tree through a process called grafting, where the bud of an apple tree is inserted into a young apple tree to produce the same kinds of apples.

The tale of a young man named Johnny Appleseed is a famous one, but is actually based on a true story. Johnny Chapman traveled America, planting apple seeds wherever he went. Rather than planting trees to create a wholesome, green environment, Chapman was searching for the perfect apple to make cider. Apples were not the same sweet variety we know today, but rather a bitter fruit that was not suitable for eating. However, they were perfect for making cider, which was preferable to water that could possibly be contaminated. As alcohol became shunned, people began to view apples as an evil fruit. Cider was not the only function of an apple, however. People began to search for the perfectly sweet apple, which they could then graft and grow by the masses simply to eat. Apples could essentially use humans changing needs and desires to make them do their bidding. Because of humans’ desire for more apples, apple trees were able to spread further and faster than if they were on their own. Because of their natural biodiversity, apple trees were able to cater to people’s changing needs for sweeter apples. We are essentially pollinators working for the apple tree.

The next plant studied was the tulip, a signature flower of the Netherlands but found all over the world.

Tulips, like apples, originated in central Asia, where it was revered in many ancient cultures. Things were different, however, when the tulip reached the Netherlands. Tulip mania gripped the nation as people sought to breed rare varieties. Tulips became a symbol of wealth and status, and anybody who was anybody had tulips growing in their front yard. The most prized kind of tulip, the Semper Augustus, was a pure white with a splash of bright red, and the bulbs eventually sold at a price equal to that of a town house today. Little did the Dutch know that this design was actually caused by a flower virus.

(Public Domain).

Today, tulips farmers continue to grow thousands of flowers on their tulip farms and breed flowers to find new combinations. Because of tulips’ ability to constantly change and keep humans’ attention, they are able to thrive and make us do their bidding of planting them by the masses.

Perhaps the most prominent example of how plants control humans is through cannabis, or marijuana.

Like apples and tulips, cannabis has been a part of many different cultures. Smoking this plant was not always as looked down on as it is today, but time made a devil of the cannabis plant. Scientists investigated the molecule in marijuana that gets humans to the high that makes cannabis so desirable. The molecule, THC, fits perfectly with a receptor in the human brain. But why would a plant chemical molecule be perfectly fitted to a receptor in our brains? As it turns out, THC has a very similar, nearly identical, structure to a chemical made in our brains that allows people to forget information. As of now, cannabis is being used to investigate possible drugs to treat PTSD.

Cannabis is a fickle creature, and requires a lot of attention to grow. Not only does the plant have humans under its control by making a molecule people desire and seek out, but the plant also makes humans take care of them in very precise and attentive ways. Two cannabis growers described how the plants require very specific care. Not only that, but when cannabis was outlawed, humans genetically modified cannabis plants to be able to grow indoors, all because of the fascination that humans have developed with the high marijuana provides.

The potato is the final plant examined in this documentary.

Potatoes were originally cultivated in Peru, where many different types of potatoes were grown to ensure that in the event of a virus or disease, there would be other potatoes that could grow. When the Spanish brought potatoes to Europe, most countries grew only one variety. This proved a fatal mistake in the Irish Potato Famine, which killed millions when a potato disease targeted the only type of potato grown in Ireland. In the U.S. today there is another instance of monoculture in potatoes. One type of potato is mass produced and sold mainly to fast food companies to make french fries, which poses a problem when there is a type of insect that eats that kind of potato. When the potato beetle struck, scientists created a genetically modified version of the potato that included a protein potato beetles could not digest and eventually killed them. The human relationship with potatoes is another example of humans believing they control plants, when, in reality, at any given moment an entire crop could die. Plants, often thought of as such simple organisms, hold far more power over us than we would like to admit.

Works Cited

Apples. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/139_1962098/1/139_1962098/cite. Accessed 25 Mar 2020.

Marijuana plants, Cannabis sativa. Photograph. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/132_1208991/1/132_1208991/cite. Accessed 25 Mar 2020.

“Potato.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potato.

Tulip field. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/132_1239934/1/132_1239934/cite. Accessed 25 Mar 2020.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

My teammates and I just finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, a novel that centers around a woman whose cells were taken from her nonconsensually. Henrietta Lacks was a black woman living in 1950s Virginia, when she developed cervical cancer. At the same time, Dr. George Gey was seeking cells that would live forever, wanting to recreate a phenomenon discovered previously with certain chicken heart cells. Admitted to John Hopkins Hospital, Henrietta was given standard radium treatment for cancer and also had pieces of her cervical and cancer tissue removed without her knowledge. These tissue cells were sent to Dr. Gey, who was collecting thousands of cells from hundreds of different patients. Unlike the other hundreds of thousands of cells that died shortly after being removed from their patients, Henrietta’s cancer cells, or HeLa cells, continued dividing, days, weeks, and months after being removed from Henrietta’s body. Gey began distributing HeLa cells to research centers all over the world for free, but one problem remained. Henrietta’s family had no idea any of this was happening. Henrietta had passed away from cancer, which had spread through her entire inner system and blocked her body from passing urine, causing toxins to build up in her blood. Henrietta’s family didn’t find out about HeLa cells until said cells were already distributed across the globe. Every time they tried to find out more, they were met with a dead end. They never saw any compensation, and had very little access to financial or legal resources. HeLa is a globally known name, and yet her family lives with no health insurance.

As we discussed Henrietta’s story, we were told to research any information that might have come out about her and her family since the publication of Skloot’s book. I found an article by the Washington Post, and as I read more about how Henrietta’s family had progressed since the end of the book, I grew more and more disturbed.

Since the publication of the book, tensions in the Lacks family had come to a peak. Many family members were taking offers to give speeches about Henrietta for money while others were still (rightfully) upset about what had happened to their relative. In addition, accusations were made that certain family members who were benefitting were not truly family members at all. In the midst of an HBO adaptation of Skloot’s book, Lawrence, Henrietta’s oldest son, has been almost completely excluded from the approval and planning of the show. Lawrence has also said that Skloot’s portrayal of Henrietta and the Lacks family was not true to reality and simply painted them as stereotypes. Henrietta didn’t have any of the grace she had in real life, and seemed to be portrayed more and more as just a cell. The Lackses were shown as poor and uneducated, and simply gave in to generalizations.

The trailer for the HBO adaptation of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Ron Lacks, Lawrence’s son, also harbors resentment towards all the money being made by the multibillion companies that have used HeLa cells to develop their products and the cousins that collect money to give speeches about Henrietta. Ron and Lawrence feel that the others have sold themselves and their family history out to Skloot and HBO by signing contracts that would grant them money to help develop the television show, but would also sign away their rights to free speech about Henrietta.

There are many sides to every story, but it feels strange now to sit here and write a blog post about a book when I know that there is so much that was hidden. HeLa cells have helped change the world, but any representation of her should be approved by those who knew her best. The widespread use of HeLa cells today simply goes to show the complications behind many bioethical debates.

World Water Day

Did you know that today is World Water Day? Today more than ever is a day to appreciate our oceans, rivers, and lakes and put our best efforts forward to cleaning up our water. Without water, life on Earth is impossible. Every form of life known to us depends on water for survival, and it is critical that we take every action necessary to protect the finite sources of clean drinking water we have, as well as the oceans that house a majority of Earth’s life. 

Since we are currently practicing social distancing to decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19, you may not be able to head out to your nearest beach or lake to enjoy the view, but you can still take some time to listen to some calming ocean waves.

There are lots of organizations posting information and great resources on Twitter. Check out #WorldWaterDay, or take a look at this thread by WWF:

Are you fascinated by icebergs, their massive size and impact on the environment? Just a really big fan of Titanic? Check out this 4-episode podcast by RNZ:

Want to help clean oceans or protect wetlands? Check out the Surfrider Foundation, Save the Bay, or The Ocean Cleanup for places to volunteer or donate. Look for beach cleanups in your area, or donate to other organizations you know and trust.

Want to know more about what’s happening with our planet’s water? Take a look at some of the videos below:

Protist Lab

Did you know that seaweed isn’t actually a plant? It’s actually a protist, which is a kingdom of life where all the organisms go that don’t fit in anywhere else, a sort of Island of Misfit Toys. Protists are crazy and fascinating, and extend so much further than seaweed. After 8 school days of distance learning, Team AP Bio has completed the protist lab. Unfortunately, we were not able to observe protists under the microscope, but were still able to research so many cool organisms. Take a look at this investigation my classmates and I conducted on protozoa, a group within the Protista kingdom of animal-like protists.

An Argument Against Plastic

Welcome to my first “Saving the Environment” post! Check out this argument paper I submitted to the Nation Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) 2020 writing competition. In it I outline the many detrimental effects that the plastic industry has on both the environment and human health.

The Plastic Crisis

Plastic is perhaps the most pervasive virus infecting human society and the environment we live in: chip bags, plastic wrap, food containers, and styrofoam cups are the decorations that litter the highways and beaches we wish we could enjoy and cut short the lives of the wildlife we should be trying to preserve. Perhaps the most easily avoidable source of plastic, but also the most commonly seen, is the plastic bottle. I recently participated in a beach cleanup that was handing out plastic water bottles to volunteers. The irony was surprising. However, the widespread consumption of such easily avoided pollution is not not solely the consumer’s responsibility. Rather, the ones who should be held most responsible are those who produce this waste. Take Nestle. Though most are familiar with Nestle, allow me to introduce you. A massive corporation who, among other things, bottles water and sports the slogan “Good food, good life.” Nestle necessarily values profit, placing priority on what will be most efficient and gain them the most money rather than on what is ethically right or beneficial to the inhabitants of this earth. To give an example, by now we should all be familiar with the water crisis happening in Flint, Michigan. In 2014, Flint’s governor switched the town’s water supply to the Flint River to allow Nestle’s use of their previous water source, the Michigan water reserves. This careless action has had serious repercussions on citizens. Children in Flint are at doubled risk for lead exposure than before. Tap water causes rashes and hair loss. Rather than clear H2O, faucets spout a rusty brown liquid, deemed too dangerous for the toughest houseplants. Meanwhile, Nestle pumps and bottles two hundred gallons from clean Michigan water reserves daily, selling this plastic water worldwide, paying a measly two hundred dollars annually for the right to use this water source. Rather than take action to fix the water supply, Nestle both sells and donates bottled water to citizens, which not only diverts their accountability for this issue they have directly created, but also adds to the plastic pollution crisis. Nestle’s actions undermine the role of water as a human right, directly contradicting statements they have previously made ensuring their belief that water should be available to all. The privatization of a substance crucial for survival allows water bottling companies to profit from people’s desperation for that vital substance. Not only that, but Nestle’s unsustainable bottling industry also contributes to the trillions of pieces of plastic found all across the world. Nestle takes no responsibility for the  plastic bottles they produce that end up in the ocean, which break down into microplastics. They keep producing. And because practices by companies like Nestle make water undrinkable for regions without access to clean water sources, people are forced to keep buying.

But let’s not only focus our attention on one perpetrator. Let’s turn to Coca-Cola. You may have seen an advertisement right before seeing your movie in the theater displaying the company’s campaign to clean up plastic pollution from rivers across the world. Yet somehow, Coca-Cola remains the largest plastic polluter globally. Douglas McCauley of UC Santa Barbara, who has partnered with Coca-Cola to launch this campaign, has announced, “We are definitely excited about getting this plastic waste out of our rivers and oceans, but we are also excited to turn this plastic waste into data that can help us turn off the tap of this waste in the first place.” While it is noble of Mr. McCauley to invest such time and effort into cleaning up our rivers, the answer to what is polluting them is right in front of us. The answer begins with the very company that has pledged 11 million dollars to the cleanup effort, while simultaneously mass producing plastic products that continually end up in those same rivers. You can’t drain a clogged sink without first turning off the faucet; Coca-Cola can’t expect to distract the masses with their claims at being a green company while continuing to be a part of the problem. 

While companies like Nestle and Coca Cola may be able to disregard the consequences of their actions now in favor of doing what is profitable, this cannot last forever. In a future where the planet has been destroyed, you cannot eat your money. You cannot build shelter from it, and you cannot replace what has been lost with it. Is profit truly more important than the future of humanity? No matter how many individuals go vegan, use their own shopping bag, or use bar shampoo, none of these things will help save our environment if large corporations don’t take responsibility for the amount of waste they produce and how much they contribute to global warming. Antarctica recently reached a record for its highest temperature ever recorded at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Oceans are being clogged, and species are going extinct from habitat loss. Still, industries, believing they are unsinkable, continue on their destructive course towards the ever-melting iceberg.

Likewise, not only do plastic products harm the environment, but they harm us. The BPA found in most plastic products is harmful to anyone who consumes it. BPA acts as an endocrine disruptor, which means that it disrupts the body’s hormone signaling, leading to cancer, infertility, or worse. Products advertised as BPA-free aren’t safer. They contain BPA’s second cousin twice removed, BPS, which is just as harmful. BPA and BPS can be absorbed through seafood that has consumed microplastics. The threat is all around us, and still there is no change. There is no acceptable reason anyone should willingly continue to put products into the world that are known to be harmful. There is no excuse.

The future generation depends on the earth to provide them with a home for their lives, and their children’s lives, and their children’s lives. Unless something is done to save the planet, the future will suffer the consequences. The present will suffer the consequences. There has been plastic discovered at the deepest point of the human-explored ocean. Over 35,853 feet below the surface, and the sand was adorned with plastic bottles and bags. Just because the current presidents of such companies may not be around to experience the damage they have done, we will. Their children will. Their grandchildren will. 17.6 billion pounds of plastic pollution enter the ocean annually. We are killing the very marine ecosystems that keep our global biome in balance. We pollute water sources and the homes of coastal countries across the world. I understand. Plastic is cheap, and plastic is efficient. But plastic is not sustainable. Companies like Coca Cola and Nestle need to be held accountable for the damage they do. Finding more environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic may cost both money and effort, but Coca Cola and Nestle make $31.9 billion and $93.4 billion, respectively. Plastic alternatives are being developed by students, designers, and engineers worldwide. There is absolutely no reason for massive industries with funding beyond what any developers have had to not have come up with an alternative yet. Massive damage has been done. The only way to make it right is to hold contributors responsible. The plastic industry knows what it needs to do. And we cannot stop putting pressure on them until they meet our standards. We must demand a safe, sustainable, and clean future, free from the stranglehold of waste and pollution, and cannot stop until our demands have been met.

Works Cited

“Antarctica Logs Hottest Temperature on Record of 18.3C.” BBC News, BBC, 7 Feb. 2020, 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-51420681.

Buehler, Nathan. “How Coca-Cola Makes Money: Selling Syrups to Bottling Partners.” 

Investopedia, Investopedia, 5 Feb. 2020, 

http://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets/112515/how-does-cocacola-actually-make-mone

y.asp.

Glenza, Jessica. “Nestlé Pays $200 a Year to Bottle Water near Flint – Where Water Is 

Undrinkable.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 29 Sept. 2017, 

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/29/nestle-pays-200-a-year-to-bottle-water-near-

flint-where-water-is-undrinkable.

Grant, Kirsty. “’I Invented a Plastic Alternative from Fish Waste’.” BBC News, BBC, 14 Nov. 

2019, http://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-50419047.

Mandel, Eric. “Coca-Cola Pledges $11M ‘River Clean-up’ Initiative, but Greenpeace Remains 

Unimpressed.” Bizjournals.com, 16 Jan. 2020, 

http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/news/2020/01/16/coca-cola-pledges-11m-river-clean-up-ini

tiative.html.

Neill, Pippa. “Coca-Cola Pledges to Clean up World’s Rivers.” Environment Journal, 17 Jan. 

2020, environmentjournal.online/articles/coca-cola-pledge-to-clean-up-worlds-rivers/.

“Nestlé Donates Drinking Water to Help Schoolchildren in Flint, Michigan.” Nestlé Global

Nestlé, 27 Jan. 2016, 

http://www.nestle.com/media/news/nestle-drinking-water-donation-schoolchildren-flint-michig

an.

“Promoting the Plight of Endangered Species and the Efforts to Save Them.” Endangered Earth

2020, http://www.endangeredearth.com/.

Reiff, Nathan. “Top 6 Companies Owned By Nestlé.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 29 Jan. 2020, 

http://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets/122215/top-4-companies-owned-nestle.asp.

Zandstra, Matt. “Michigan Is about to Sell 210M Gallons of Groundwater to Nestlé for $200.” 

SumOfUs, actions.sumofus.org/a/while-flint-drinks-poison-nestle-is-pumping-out-200-ga

llons-of-fresh-water-every-minute.

Save the Bay: Post Trip Blog

On March 4th, Team AP Bio took a field trip to the Palo Alto baylands to volunteer time with Save the Bay. We arrived wearing sweatshirts, but quickly shed layers thanks to the full and beaming sun, which also ended up giving me a sunburn. We met our group leader and headed out to the worksite. Standing in a circle, we learned more about the program we would be participating in, which was all about evaluating the effect of wetland restoration on soil and biodiversity. For years Save the Bay had been working to restore the wetlands in the bay, since these areas are crucial to sustaining life. The wetlands filter water coming in from all over California, but are often seen as dirty or unnecessary.

To test how this restoration was actually affecting the life around the wetlands, we performed some soil tests at sites that were at varying distances from the actual water of the bay. We tested for soil moisture, salinity, pH, and quality. The first three required tests run by special devices, and the last was a hands-on, feeling the dirt kind of test. First, we had to break up the soil with a pick and get rid of rocks, twigs, and branches that might get in the way. To test moisture, we inserted a delicate two-pronged probe into some soil and pressed down on the soil on top. This gave us a reading indicating the level of moisture in the dirt. For salinity, we squirted some distilled water into the soil and dug a small hole into the ground to fit a pointy metal device into. The water was added since salt is a good conductor of electricity in water, and conductivity is another way to test salinity. To test the pH, we patted the soil down and pressed a small rod to the surface. The soil quality test consisted of a group member picking up a handful of dirt and determining if the soil was smooth, gritty, or sticky, among other adjectives.

To measure biodiversity, we went around our different sites with a grid-like square made of PVC pipes and string. Then, we catalogued the amounts of different species within our square and how many of each species there were.

The biodiversity test
Photo by Mrs. Girard

This trip was an amazing way to experience firsthand what work might look like working towards restoration. Getting to do actual soil tests gave me better insight into what people at Save the Bay do every day, and learning about the wetlands made me really see the importance of our work. Being out in nature was such a great bonding experience as well, enjoying the weather and seeing rabbits and snakes. I’m so excited to see how we analyze our data and how the data we collected compares to what other AP Bio classes have done in the past.

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