Biological science projects can be a great way for someone of any age to learn some interesting things about an intriguing field. Because biology is such a broad field, there are a multitude of projects that you can undertake in order to learn about biology. Below are some ideas that can be used for science class, a science fair, or even just for some interesting fun!
Exploring the ripening of fruit
The ripening of fruit is a common biological process that can be easily explored. We’re all familiar with what happens as fruit ripens – it gets much more delicious! But you may not be aware of why it happens. There are a group of enzymes in fruit that are activated by a gas called ethylene. Ethylene is produced any time a fruit is wounded, and picking a fruit can cause the release of the gas to begin. Ethylene activates hormones that make a fruit achieve the color and taste it is well-known for.
The ripening process can be delayed, however, and this is what could make an interesting science project: exploring the ways to affect fruit ripening, and understanding why they work. For example, if you want to slow the process you can refrigerate the fruit (cooling slows almost any biological process). But, you can also speed up the process. By putting the fruit in a paper bag and adding another ripening fruit (especially a banana, which emits a great deal of ethylene), you can speed up the process. Experimenting with these variables can help someone understand about enzymes, the factors affecting biological processes, and fruit in general!
Insects and light or heat
Another interesting experiment involves investigating whether insects are attracted to artificial lights due to the light they emit, or the heat. During the day, most insects use the sun as a navigation tool. However, now that there are many artificial lights around at night, insects get pretty confused. The sun stays in one place during the day, so an insect can use it as a grounding point. However, when it flies past an artificial light, the light moves in relation to the insect. This causes them to fly in circles around it. Eventually they will run smack into it.
You can do an experiment to test whether insects are attracted to light or heat by setting up a dark room with a light bulb and an artificial heat source (e.g. an electric space heater). As long as you have a few insects in the room with you, you’ll be set. Watch which object the insects are attracted to. My money is on the light, and you’ll soon be able to affirm that insects are attracted to light, not heat.
Biological science projects can provide someone with hands-on experience and a very educational one at that. They allow people of any age to learn in a way that really implants the knowledge in their mind. They can be great for science fairs, or just for a way to spend any old weekend!
Anyone who follows current biological science news will know that the discoveries that come out of the biological fields become more amazing on a daily basis. As scientific methodologies become more refined, scientists are able to manipulate even the most detailed biological processes. Eventually, this will allow them to understand complex diseases and hopefully find cures for them.
One of the most astounding fields of biological science nowadays is that of nanomedicine. Nanomedicine involves applying nanotechnology to biological processes. Nanotechnology involves working with matter on the scale of atoms or molecules – in other words: very small. Applications of nanomedicine involve finding ways to deliver drugs that make them more available to the body. For example, by using nanoengineering, a drug can be targeted to a specific molecular target and delivered there with precision. This is far more efficient than the current method of getting a drug into the bloodstream then just hoping it reaches its target.
Nanoparticles can also be used, however, to directly target problematic areas in the body like blood clots or cancer tumors. Recently, researchers at Harvard University used drug-coated nanoparticles to dissolve blood clots. Other researchers at Case Western Reserve University used nanoparticles to deliver an anti-cancer drug to breast cancer tumor cells. With the use of nanomedicine, diseases like cancer and heart disease may one day be a thing of the past.
Biological scientists are also developing more accurate animal models of human disease. A good example of this is work being done with mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists can use genetic engineering to create mice that have particular variants of human genes. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, they were able to engineer mice with a gene that gives humans a 15 times increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The engineered mouse has the genetics of humans who have the disease, and also displays symptoms that resemble the human disease.
Animal models like this are an important step forward in understanding and treating diseases like Alzheimer’s. Perhaps most importantly, they provide scientists with a model of the disease in an organism they can test drugs on (something which they can’t do ethically in humans until they’ve shown the drugs to be safe). It also allows them to study changes in brain and body chemistry as the disease progresses, giving them more information about how a disease like Alzheimer’s develops.
Nanomedicine and animal models are just two of the myriad ways biological scientists are becoming more adept at understanding and treating human diseases. The knowledge contained in a field like biology grows exponentially with every year that passes. This allows scientists to have very ambitious plans for the near future when it comes to the management of human conditions that only 20 years ago might have seemed impossible to manage.
If you look only at the state of medicine 50 years ago, it is astounding to see how far we have come. It is staggering to think what could occur in the next 25 or 50 years. Biological science is one field that has an impact on all of our lives.