Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The summer begins

I just have to do some orgo final grading tomorrow and my summer begins. No classes, no TAing, just research (and the occasional friend and family visits)

I'm in a hurry so I'll be more succinct that usual:

Caffeine has medicinal properties that were previously unknown! This information was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. Some of the new actions of caffeine include prevention against neurodegeneration, improvement of memory, reduction in amyloid-beta protein production, among others.

Recently published in BMC Immunology was a paper that demonstrated a link between HIV-1 infection rates and small pox vaccination. Apparently, individuals who receive the smallpox (vaccinia) vaccination are more resistant to HIV-1 viral replication than those that did not receive the vaccination. Not sure what this will mean in how we design new HIV prophylactics and combat the disease, but it certainly is an interesting find!

A new paper in Nature uses some very interesting statistics to test the theory of the Universal Common Ancestor. Here's a quotation from that paper: "These results provide powerful statistical evidence corroborating the monophyly of all known life."

Below is a picture I took of some tulips on Cornell's campus:

Monday, May 10, 2010

10 May 2010

This BP oil spill fiasco is getting ridiculous. Apparently some engineer thinks that they can fire garbage with enough force several thousand feet below the ocean's surface against an oil pressure generated by the pressure of the Earth's crust at a hole and plug it up. I'm not really a sports guy, but I do believe this is a maneuver called a "Hail Mary." I wonder how many ecosystems we'll destroy before we are stopped?

So I was in lab until 4 am last night doing a column and some TLC of my PDC reaction. After I take an 1H NMR today I will be just 3 steps away from one of my target molecules!!

Ok, now for some SWEET science!

One of the most remarkable organ systems of animal life on this planet is the nervous system. This network of highly specialized cells takes environmental information (chemical, physical, visual, etc...) turns that analogue signal into an electrical pulse which is then amplified and transmitted to the brain. Once in the brain these signals are integrated and analyzed and then a response is made. These cells communicate with each other across very tiny spaces called a synapse. In this synapse tiny fat blobs called vesicles transmit chemicals from one cell to another. The release of these vesicles is a highly complex process which remains to be completely elucidated. Researchers have now demonstrated in a Science paper that vesicle fusion (i.e. neurotransmitter release) is dependent upon a protein called synaptotagmin 1. The more we know about how our nervous system works the more well equipped we will be to cure neurodegenerative diseases and other neurological disorders as well as perhaps develop a synthetic brain. Citation: Science 7 May 2010 Vol. 328 nol 5979, pp. 760-763.

Some of the most ubiquitous life and chemistry on this planet takes place within the cells of green stuff, plants. Plants have the ability to take photons (light) from the sun and convert it into chemical energy. Arguably the most important chemical reaction on our planet is the Hill reaction taking place in the oxygen evolving complex (OEC). The source of almost all of the oxygen we breath comes from this crucial reaction and the process through which the light energy is absorbed and converted to charge separation is the subject of intense research. In another Science paper, Swedish researchers used X-ray flashes to catch the movement of one of the proteins involved in light energy capture and found that a highly conserved tyrosine (TyrL162) is deprotonated resulting in a movement of just 1.3 angstroms. This research will hopefully help in the development of synthetic light capture technologies that would allow us to use our local star for energy rather than burn the liquefied remains of our ancestors. Citation: Science 30 April 2010, Vol. 328, no. 5978, pp. 630-633.

The NASA New Horizons spacecraft is almost halfway to pluto with just 1890 days 17 hours 19 minutes until it arrives (as of this post). This spacecraft will analyze these distant objects in greater detail than ever before. Below is a picture taken by New Horizons as it passed by Jupiter and its moon, Io, the most geologically dynamic body in our solar system. Take note of the blue plume (a volcanic plume) on the top of Io (the foreground).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

no more classes

So, I have finished my classes for my Ph.D. All there is left to do now is take some exams. Summer is quickly approaching in Ithaca and I can't wait for some awesome researching.

Physicists have been able to image whole frozen hydrated yeast cells. Their work resulted in several publications, one of the cooler ones appearing in Physical Review Letters. These scientists were able to resolve structures within the cell with better than 25 nanometer resolution. Just to place this in perspective, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the molecule that makes you an individual, is just 2 nm wide. We know a lot about cell biology, but there is a great deal that we do not know. Imagine the day when we are able to take a snap shot of every molecule inside of a cell with spacial and temporal resolution...what power! Citation: Phys. Rev. Lett. 103, 198101 (2009).

The media has had a hayday with resveratrol, the miracle drug found in red wine that has the remarkable ability to increase the lifespan of every animal from worms to monkeys. It seems that lifespan is even more complex than previously thought. A paper, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, shows for the first time a link between the protein arrestin and longevity. When it was first discovered, arrestin was thought to be sort of a boring molecule, not doing much in an organism...but then it was found to be a huge player in cellular signaling pathways. The authors were able to demonstrate a link between cellular arrestin levels and worm lifespan (less arrestin meant a longer living worm). No medical treatment yet for aging, but it seems that we are getting closer! Citation: JBC, 285, 15187-15200.

Finally!! The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has gone online! Our star, the Sun (loves it!!), is the singularly most important astronomical object within 5 light years of our planet. The slow fusion reactions taking place in its core irradiate our hunk of rock and water (Earth) with the energy necessary to making boring matter into what we call life (self replicating matter). We know surprisingly little about the processes that make the Sun do what it does, but the SDO is hoping to answer that question by "studying the solar atmosphere on small scales of space and time and in many wavelength simultaneously." If that isn't enough to make you beg for data, then I don't know what is!

I'll leave you with the following picture to reflect on: this is our Sun. The earth is a tiny spec in comparison.