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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.

Hello world!

I’m new to wordpress, but not to online writing. I have kept an online journal since people did that kind of thing (over 10 yrs now!). I’m trying wordpress out in attempts to get myself writing about science to the public. I’m a bit unfocused as of now, but I hope that keeping a blog for at least 5 weeks will help that. My particular aims are:

1) humanize scientists to others

2) share some of my thoughts on important topics – preview: why the dr. is not always right, children’s nutrition, and science education

happy reading!