Archive for March, 2012


I haven’t written a poem in a long time. I tried to sit down and write something today, but had a lot of trouble because I’ve been working so hard at making my meanings crystal clear. A couple of my journalism instructors have said to keep a record of lines that you particularly like and think about why. So this is a collection of some of my favorite song lyrics. disclaimer: do not judge me. some of these song are terrible.

the first set are ones that I use for encouragement:

all that I’m after is a life full of laughter

we could be the stars falling from the sky

shining how we want

brighter than the sun

life throws you curves

but you learn to swerve

might as well share, might as well smile

life goes on for a little bitty while

don’t you worry your pretty little mind

people throw rocks at things that shine

you say you bite? well I bite back

I put my hands up they’re playing my song, you know I’m going to be ok

the next set are ones that I like because of the way they capture raw emotions so clearly:

when I kiss your salty lips, you will feel a little crazy, but for me?

I know my heart will never be the same

but I’m telling myself I’ll be ok

you are the best thing that’s ever been mine

this life this love that you and I have been dreaming of

I lie awake and I drive myself crazy

nothing is forever, there’s got to be something better than in the middle

feels like I should be getting somewhere

but somehow I’m neither here nor there

while I’m wide awake, you have no trouble sleeping

I let it fall, my heart

it’s the last time, the last time I’ll wait up for you

I’m not ready to make nice

to write this down it means to reconcile

let it burn

don’t build your world around, volcanoes melt you down

you give me miles and miles of ocean and I asked for the sea

from here there are whole stanzas that I like, but they’re the same concept. I like how well they express my feelings that I have such problems putting into words. I’m only sharing two, one that is particularly haunting me right now and the other just because I love it.

I’ll spread my wings, and I’ll learn how to fly
Though it’s not easy to tell you goodbye
I gotta take a risk, take a chance, make a change
And breakaway
Out of the darkness and into the sun
But I won’t forget the place I come from
I gotta take a risk, take a chance, make a change
And breakaway

sweet like candy to my soul

sweet you rock and sweet you roll

lost for you, I’m so lost for you

I saved the rest of them as a doc for just myself. I hope you liked these as much as I do.

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Metabolism and weight are a terrifically complicated combination of nature and nurture. Overweight parents are a strong indicator for an overweight child, but is it because they’re unhealthy or is it because of their DNA? We often assume that people are overweight because they eat too much of the wrong kinds of food.  But genetics can play a big part in metabolism, some people are just “calorically efficient” and store energy for times of need, which evolutionarily was a good thing.  Regardless of whether weight is put on by nature or nurture, a new study by a group in Sweden shows that exercise may help change the course of genetic destiny by allowing the expression of healthy genes.  This means that while DNA may predispose some individuals to gaining weight rapidly, there is something they can do something about it.  In this study, exercise was shown to remove a modification on metabolic DNA that blocks gene expression.  They also show that the more exercise a person does, the more healthy genes are expressed.  Researchers also said that caffeine can have the same effect, however requires about 50 cups of coffee/day.  In this case, exercise is probably easier.

link to article: http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/abstract/S1550-4131%2812%2900005-8#Introduction

nature news and comments: http://www.nature.com/news/a-trip-to-the-gym-alters-dna-1.10176

In the name of science

I didn’t have a pet growing up. I have an older brother and a male best friend, both of whom remind me of having a big, dumb dog, but never an actual dog or a goldfish or anything. While I remind both my brother and my best friend frequently to use their words and sometimes they still communicate poorly, they have the ability to tell me what’s wrong and I can respond with something reassuring.  But mice don’t understand words.  When animal rights activists protest, this is probably their singular selling point to me.  I’m a scientist, I know the value of animal research and there are a million protocols and rules to reduce the animal’s suffering, but I can still see their pain and can do so little to ease it.

I study inflammation and obesity in the absence of phospholipase D (my gene of interest).  To do so, I use a mouse obesity model.  This is my first time working with live mice over time; prior to this study, all of my mouse work was done after the mouse was deceased.  Over the past twelve weeks I have been the primary care giver for 24 mice, 14 of which are on a high fat diet. I have weighed them every week, injected them twice a month, tested their blood sugar over time, put them through a CT scanner, and stuck them in a metabolic chamber.  I’ve seen their personalities, observed them under stress, and done my best to soothe them when I had to do something particularly uncomfortable or scary.  You’re not supposed to name them. Part of the reason I am not an MD (other than being squemish) is that I get very invested in people and apparently this also translates to any living creature. They have these personalities and so in my head, I sort of started referring to them as stumpy, fiesty, fatty, yippie… kind of like the seven dwarves.  These mice have become my pets.  And today I have to sacrifice them.

I am literally sick to my stomach.  The only thing that has unraveled the knots has been extreme physical exertion.  But they have to die. They’ve been bred for this; this is their purpose.  I cannot take their blood, which I need, without taking their lives. It would be cruel to keep them alive after bleeding them, it is my own selfishness that doesn’t want to take their lives, to hurt them.  They won’t know. I’ll put them to sleep and then snap their necks, which sounds brutal, but its much worse to watch them suffocate.  The first time I did it, I cried.  Today, I have to man up and be brave for my little friends.

Moment of truth… nerves of steel.

Cellular beauty

I was a biochem and art double major in undergrad.  Using a confocal microscope, I can look at my cells. For my last project, it was really important to see what was going on in the cell when I removed a specific protein. Microscopy combines my love of science with making things beautiful.

In this image, the circles are beads coated with a substance that triggers phagocytosis – the engulfment of a foreign particle – that I fed these macrophages.  The red coloring you see is the cell’s actin cytoskeleton.  Just like our skeletons, the cytoskeleton gives the cell its shape. Phagocytosis requires the cytoskeleton to rearrange itself around the bead which is accomplished by recruitment of signaling proteins.  I study what happens when a particular signal is removed from this equation.

Inflammation is a loaded word.  Inflammation is often talked about when it is unnecessary and therefore gets a negative connotation, however normal inflammation is a good sign.  It means that your white blood cells are going to battle as they try to return you to good health.  Nine times out of ten, this army of cells responds to an invasion or injury with minimal discomfort.  A fever here or some pain there are acceptable when the outcome is health.  There are however, a number of situations when the defenses are tricked. Sometimes the defenses think its own cells have gone rogue and begin an unnecessary civil war such as during arthritis and asthma.  Sometimes their battle is futile and they wind up causing more harm than good such as during plaque formation and obesity.

Our hero is one of the front liners, the macrophage and my job is to prevent their going into battle during obesity.  There are a number of approaches I could take, but the one that I have stumbled on is to prevent the assembly of machinery.   There is a protein, phospholipase D (PLD), that is activated when the macrophage senses extreme danger.  We’re not clear what exactly the role of this activation is, but it appears to be necessary to building the machinery that sounds the alarm.  Without the alarm, there is no amassing of soldiers and therefore no real battle.

In this situation, no battle is good because the “danger” is dying fat cells that an inflammatory response cannot help.  In fact inflammation in this situation winds up harming the body by interfering with metabolic pathways. But you can imagine that dulling a siren is not always a good thing.  I will explain further in my next installment, dear reader.