Wednesday, February 27, 2013

ain't it just like the present

Hey guys,

I promise I will get back to "tell me a tale of how it was" series... but as I'm getting ready for my interviews at UMass Amherst this weekend and Rutgers in a few weeks, trying to prove to academia and myself that I have prepared myself enough to continue for a PhD ...

Only "Ain't it just like the present to be showing up like this?" keeps replaying in my head as Bon Iver sings his soul shaking song "Blood Bank". This song has many a meaning for me but what it clearly reminds me of is who I was as a freshmen here at University of New Hampshire. Now I'm a senior graduating and going on with my life... but when I hear that song, specifically that line, I suddenly am in my dorm room in that shithole of a dorm I will always love, Stoke Hall... in my little single after finally getting out of a built up triple, with all my collages on the wall, curled up on my bed working on some art piece for Intro to Drawing. I decided to post something that I had written my freshmen year... I know that spring break is coming up and people are finding out about where they are going and others are just waiting or have no idea. Whenever I read this old essay I see how far I've come (or right back to where I was) and I know a lot of you had felt this way freshmen year and are feeling like I do right now... scared, excited, hopeful, dreading, lost yet found, literally the exact same way we felt the first day we walked onto this campus. I'm sharing this piece of writing from ENGL401 because it's a voice of the past that I have always reread when I'm unsure of where I'm going. Maybe it'll help someone out there like it does for me. If not, I hope you at least get a good laugh out of it.

Enjoy!

PS: Got an A+ on this paper ;)

Personal Essay, Fall 2009

I stared down at the labels. “A-Detergent, B-Softener, C-Bleach.” All that was going through my head was “shit…shit…shit…” Classy, I know, since I’m not one to swear much but tonight I think there were at least 15 different obscenities that were running through my head as I stood there like an idiot just staring at the box in front of me. It’s not that I’ve never done laundry. At home I’d help out my mom by doing a couple loads every so often when she asked or if I needed something specific clean. It was the fact that this wasn’t home. This wasn’t my washer. There was no one upstairs to ask something stupid like “hot water or cold?” I was on my own. And that was what scared the hell out of me.

I had been avoiding laundry for about a week and a half here at Stoke Hall. I could have gone longer but my towels were screaming at me every morning to wash them. I’d run out of my room mumbling back to them some excuse like, “I have to get to class,” or, “I’m starving, I’ll come back later.”  Either way this was a completely forced situation where I was down here alone at ten o’clock at night in a dreary laundry room with only abandoned sock balls as my company. I had brought down my English homework thinking if I read maybe it would keep me from staring at the towels and questioning their fate, or rather, my fate. Silly? Oh yes completely, but I felt like this was a test. If I can’t do a simple load of towels how the heck was I going to be able to graduate college? Become a doctor? My head started to spin as another three obscenities slipped under my breath. It’s a load of towels. Get a grip. I sucked in as much air as my lungs would allow, held it, and poured each liquid into the designated compartments. There’s no going back now. For both laundry and college, which only freaked me out more. I kind of laughed at myself and my weird metaphor of my life rumbling in my ears.

The load began and my frantic eyes were glued on those poor towels. I honestly felt for them, helpless in their situation, not knowing if they’ll come out alright in the end. My stomach did its usual flip flop and twisted my innards hard. I groaned and sat down on a chair with the book still on my lap but my eyes on the little window of the washer. I felt like that, helpless that is. It was like staring at my future. It’s not like I could open the door and stop it, or even undo what I’d just done. I had to wait, and I hate waiting. On top of that I felt like I needed guidance for the first time in my life and had no idea where to go for it. Yes, my parents have always been there for me and even my guidance counselor and teachers back in high school. However, their advice had always been on the simplistic side, more of a support than real guidance because I had mapped out my dreams and goals since freshman year. All throughout high school I had been preparing to go to college to then go to medical school and then become a doctor. I had taken seven and a half years worth of science classes within four years, kept my grades in the Honors, and even played sports and was on multiple science teams. But this wasn’t high school, just like how this wasn’t my washer. It’s all new territory. Another twist hits me and I hear myself groan again –more pained then before. What am I going to do? The silent screams in my head rise in volume and I feel like I’m stuck in a trance of pure panic. The light on the washer switches to spin and I jump as the metal monster growls at me. While thankful that it had snapped me out of my downward plummet, unfortunately it also reminded me of my original thoughts over my current uncertainty.

My attention settles on the colors being tumbled and thrown into one another as the suds swish back and forth, mocking my own thoughts bouncing around in the same manner in my head. Do I really have it in me? What if I burn out? What if I flunk out? What if I’m just plain miserable here? What if? What if!? That’s the problem with “what ifs,” is that there’s never a clear answer because it’s not a clear question. The spinning slows down and as if my brain is subconsciously following the washer’s lead, the thoughts begin to die down and all that’s left is a sense of hopelessness.

I think there’s a point, or points in some cases, in everyone’s life where they hit rock bottom and reality checks in. And as cliché as it sounds, the light switched to rinse and my head tilted for a second as I stared at my future “un-sudding”. For some reason or other I calmed down at the sight. Reality plopped down next to me, gave a comforting hug and I took the reassurance thankfully. I’m not the only freshman here trying to get their life together, and I’m not the first, (nor the last), who will have no idea which compartment to put the detergent in never mind how much. And I’m sure that I am not the only human being who’s felt as if time was moving faster when you least expected it to. I took a sigh, unclenching my hands from the damp pages, and stood up to break the mental barriers I had just been building up in the past 25 minutes. I began running a mental check list of how to possibly to get help, to take the baby steps, to regain a sense of control…the buzzer goes off in the middle of my enlightenment.  

I stopped pacing and glared at the washer. The towels beckoned me to deal with the present, maybe even check this off my list if successful. I winced as I opened the door, afraid to stick my hand down and either feel normal wet towels or a slime of judgment casting its disapproval of a horrible job done. 5…4…3…2…1…go. I reached down fast and patted my towels. The smell of clean reached my nose and I smiled to myself. Perfect. Maybe I’ll even do a load of darks tonight. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

tell me a tale of how it was (cont'd)

Hey guys,

So the discussion continues! This is seriously one of my favorite topics, not because of the fact we're talking about kissing/sex but how we either assume (or maybe not) that how we, as a society, approach something that we think is the "norm". And in our day to day activities we think that this is how it has always been or that our ancestors have slowly taken on these roles either due to genetics/evolution/society pressures, etc. Then someone goes ahead and analyzes us... and then we begin to question the very fibers that bind us in the fabric of our lives (ha, that commercial just popped in my head - anyone know the Zooey Deschanel/Target commercial?). So since this is a very long in depth post I decided to break it up a bit so you guys can pick parts at your leisure... I'm telling my funny story first as a way for you to get pumped for the science/nerdy stuff to follow (so be amped!).

So about 3 years ago I think, I went to the bookstore on New Years Eve day and picked up this tiny little book that had a sculpture of two people kissing titled, "The Science of Kissing". I thought it was funny so I began flipping through the pages expecting like a scientific "how-to" kiss protocol with science backing up the perfect technique. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that this was far from a cosmo/biddie reading piece. I ended up buying the book and finally after an additional 2 New Years, I finished it (I also found that in college that downtime reading does not exist fyi).

Now, since I had these thoughts judging the title of how it was a "how-to" guide... I guess I should've seen the following coming. I will tell you that this book is awesome. Sheri K. is witty and keeps your attention with funny stories and examples while weaving in the science behind it all. I will also tell you that anyone and everyone will give you a questioning look if they notice the title as you are reading. I felt like a desperate harlot after one woman at the airport just gave me this look like... "Really?". I should have done something obnoxious in return but as my friends will tell you I lack the spontaneous sass to accomplish things that would be unsavory in public. Instead I slumped in my seat and tried covering the title with my hands... which apparently are still too small despite the book only being 8 inches high. Pretty sure I resorted to curling up my legs so you couldn't see what I was reading after this young guy gave me a look which I couldn't tell was pity or like I'm an easy target. Finally, when on the actual plane I had one of the most random and humorous conversations... which is saying a lot since I have yet to continue the "my life is a joke series" which you will soon find weird ass things are common in my life.

I at first was hiding the title again to best of my ability when I had sat down next to this older gentleman. Finally I was like, eh, I want to calmly drink my coffee and I am never going to see this guy again so screw it. I also noticed he was grading papers... or it looked like it. So now I'm sure everyone has been in this situation. You  are uncomfortably close to this person and either you ignore each other the entire time or you strike a conversation which could last the flight or be sporadic. So far the only conversation we had was he told me not to forget my seat belt... which I hadn't, I hate flying and was waiting till the last second before I had to strap myself into my mental death trap of having to take off (I only hate landing and taking off... it's this weird heights over water and the possibility of the wheels snapping off at the last second - logically it's stupid and I know this but logic vs fears are not easy). So now we're up in the air and for about 10 minutes I was debating whether or not I really wanted to talk to this guy. I guess I should also mention at this point I was flying out to Michigan to meet my boyfriend's (Ethan's) family for the first time. Needless to say I was actually debating whether to distract myself with conversation with this man or spend the next 2 hours thinking of every possible bad thing that could happen in the next 10 days out there (you know, like those romantic comedy movies with the scenes of the girlfriend visiting and she makes a fool out of herself? ...Yes boys, romantic comedies do influence us girls). Anyway when I pictured like one of those scenes where the girl slips on cow dung when with the family (does anyone know what movie I'm thinking of?) I decided to ask him if he was a professor. Come to find out he was a professor at UCLA for the law school program. So it was great, I began asking him how their department works and how they look at GPA when admitting graduates, etc. Then he looks over and gives a smile, saying, "So, what are you reading?". Shit. shitshitshitshit. Why? WHY DID YOU ASK THAT? I have appeared normal for the past 15 minutes... there is no way I'm going to be able to explain to you how this is interesting and not creepy in the slightest since you have no love of science. Well, here comes the hour of awkwardness when I explain this. If you think I'm exaggerating, I'm not. The conversation was killed instantly despite me trying to smooth it over with a joke about how scientists need help even analyzing a kiss. Face palm anyone? I sank into my seat as much as possible... sipped my coffee and went back to my book and thoughts about Ethan's family. Maybe 5 minutes go by and the guy chuckles and says, "Can I please see the table of contents?" I give the book over and realize I never bothered to look at the table of contents/titles of each chapter.... I look over his should to see for myself. Here they are:

Part One: Human Origins
1. First Contact
2. Jungle Fever
3. Kiss My Past
4. Cultural Exchange

Part Two: Kissing in the Body
5.The Anatomy of a Kiss
6. Women Are from Venus, Men Are Easy
7. Scent of Man
8. Close Encounters
9. There Are Such Things as Cooties

Part Three: Great Expectations
10. This is Your Brain on Kissing
11. The Open Lab
12. The Future of Kissing
13. The Right Chemistry

.... Well then.... I'm pretty sure Part One was where my eyes bugged out of my head and felt like a deer in headlights ("I swear it's science! I swear I'm not that socially awkward that I don't know how to kiss! My boyfriend is real! I am not Amy from Big Bang Theory!!!") I winced and looked at the guy saying "It's a weird but really interesting book..." as he looked at me pitifully. The rest of the plane ride was silent for the most part, we talked about Michigan for a bit but that was all. Then right before I walked off the plane the guy stopped me and said, "A little piece of advice, if you are going to see your boyfriend, and I'm assuming you've missed him a lot, I wouldn't be reading stuff like that right before hand" and smiled that father-knows-best smile to me. So I was given relationship advice by a random law professor from Cali that in order to still be romantically attracted to my boyfriend, I should not read about the science of kissing right prior to embracing him at the drop off/pick up spot at the airport. Awesome.

So since the main focus of the New York Times article is whether it's cultural influence or evolution, I'm going to focus on chapters 3-8 mainly from the book. It covers both sides of it and I am trying to find a good paper on MHCs to cover some more science in how us humans are/or may not be programmed. Side note, anyone else got some good plane stories?

Enjoy!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

tell me a tale of how it was

Hey guys,

So I decided I really want to tie in this article, Darwin Was Wrong About Dating, and the book I just finished reading, "The Science of Kissing" (by Sheril Kirshenbuam), into the next big blog post... along with a couple funny stories that pertain to people seeing me read this book. I am posting this now so you can read the article before I have a chance to write about it. I am really excited about all this... science and romance are fun to combine especially when it takes all the romance out of it (once again another funny story I will have to tell). Anyway check it out and make comments if you like so I can cover what ever is on your mind.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

the nitty gritty

Hey guys,

First THANK YOU to the two comments!! You give me hope people read the nonsense I type... granted I'm pretty sure I know who you are but I don't care. I'll pretend that you are a random person from cross country who stumbled on my blog and were truly interested...

So in the last post, I was questioning the science on CNN's article (see last blog for link) and whether or not it was blown out of proportion/misleading by the author, Aarathi Prasad, of "Like a Virgin: How Science if Redesigning the Rules of Sex". I found the paper regarding the experiment of the mouse that was born from two female eggs, and also have the supplemental data due to the nice anonymous guy/girl who left it in the comments.

Let's get down to the science:

Just from the abstract I already found a flaw in Prasad's description (at least through the video, I don't know how detailed she is in her book). She had said that it was an immature egg used to fertilize the other egg. That is correct, but she fails to mention that this was not a normal immature egg, it was a mutant egg that had been engineered to knock out 13,000 base pairs in a gene known as the H19 gene. Now, some may say what's the big deal? It's still immature! ... Yes, you're right but the fact at the end of the video how she said that "...our genes, our biology has ways to circumvent things the ought to be impossible..." I hate to break it to you , but our biology naturally can't circumvent the impossible unless we fool around with genes like they did in this paper. In the end she speaks of how more investigation needs to occur but I get the impression, and you may disagree, that this is all right around the corner. Judging by the paper I read, she's so way out field it's not even funny. Not to mention this paper is almost a decade old -it was published in 2004. I know personally if references are earlier than 2008 I can't even use them in some course assignments, never mind go off and write a book about it.

I guess that's one of the major points I'm trying to get across with this topic as well as this blog, that in order for the general audience to give a shit, you make it sound more appealing by not giving detail, which is wrong to do. We need to recognize that leaving out information and emphasizing other points is unethical in the eyes of science (okay my high mighty speech is over, thank you for bearing through it).

If you didn't know this, us geneticists do this in order to genetically engineer... not test tubes & flasks

Kono et al's work is pretty neat I have to say, but the supplemental data is necessary to understand everything that was accomplished and even then some data is just not given. Also to get a full idea of what's being looked at and why, I had to go back in time to when I would have been 5 years old and Kono et al. 1996, "Epigenetic modifications during oocyte growth  correlates with extended parthenogenetic development of the mouse" was published (freaky huh?). Of course, even with UNH's subscriptions I couldn't access the full paper; however, the gist of the 1996 research was that imprinted genes are necessary for fetal growth in mammal reproduction. Imprinted genes are the "expression or repression of genes solely on the basis of the parent from which they were inherited". The imprinted genes from our moms are regulated by a process known as methylation, which occurs during oogenesis. So Prasad was correct in the sense that one egg is immature, or a better way of putting it, lacks of methylation of imprinted loci during the oocyte's (egg's) growth.

What was first done was that Kono et al. took wild type oocytes (oocytes that contain the predominant genotype in a natural population) that were non-growing (ng; lacking the methylation/immature) and fully grown (fg). These fetuses developed to 13.5 days before dying.

Next approach was that they deleted 3,000bp of the gene, H19, at the transcription unit in mutant mice. Their non-growing oocytes were combined with wild type fully grown oocytes. These fetuses developed to 17.5 days but had no further development after that.

H19 and Igf2 are coordinately regulated by cis-acting elements. These in turn are regulated by how methylated the H19 gene is in a region known as the "deferentially methylated region" (DMR) as well as how methylated endoderm-specific enhancers are. H19 encodes for a long noncoding RNA and Igf2 encodes for a growth-promoting factor (IGF-II), a major fetal growth regulator.

Now here comes the good stuff... 13,000bp were deleted from the same H19 rather than 3000bp. So same thing, the mutant mice lacking this section of the gene gave their non-growing oocytes and were combined with wild type fully grown oocytes.

There were 598 oocytes constructed.
457 eggs were cultured.
371 morula/blastocysts were derived and transferred to 26 recipient mothers
24 of these mothers became pregnant
10 pups lived to 19.5 days of gestation when autopsied ... 18 were dead
Of the 10, 2 were successfully restored, having normal morphology
1 of the two was given a foster mother and grew to adulthood

Her name is Kaguya:

                                                            Kaguya w/ pups of her own

We went from 598 to 1. Think about that, and now rewatch that CNN video to see if you can take her seriously.

Now, what they did... was incredible. I do not want to take away the spotlight on their accomplishments. I'm just saying that it's always good to go back to the original source before you believe the media (if you didn't know that already by now).

The rest of the paper goes on about comparing parthernotes vs. the control and then goes on to discuss features in global gene expression among the parthernotes. It's mainly results and if you want me to discuss it further make a comment and I'll be sure to break down the genetics. I'm just afraid of boring you guys to be honest, so fill me in if you want the true nerdy me to start explaining stuff. It's actually really cool with the genes they looked at further and I recommend you look at the data yourself as well (I mean tech you can't believe me either since a blog is a form of media...)

Recipes and music!

Thank you if you have gotten through my first attempt to break down a paper all on my own (I'm actually amazed if you read through the whole thing, you have the patience of a saint). Your reward is my favorite apple pie recipe. I was in charge of the Christmas Eve dinner this past year (after some begging that I wanted to prove I could cook for the family). For dinner I attempted chicken cordon bleu, sauteed asparagus with garlic, and fingerling potato & vidalia onion lyonnaise. Then for dessert I whipped out my apple pie and pumpkin walnut pie. Not to brush my own shoulders, but it all came out wonderfully and my only complaint was that I didn't get to put the sauce on the chicken 5 min before it had to be taken out of the oven (I think it unfortunately took away from the moisture). Anyway, I've been making this pie now for two years and it's a big hit with the friends up at school (my friend Colin has already asked that I need to make it one more time before graduation). I found it at my go-to website, allrecipes.com (love this site!) and took a couple modifications from some commentors (always makes a difference). To summarize how amazing this thing is, basically the last time I made it at school one of my roommates was brought to tears of joy after a long day in classes with one bite (classic college student mental break down- true story). If you want the recipes to the other stuff I made by all means ask! You can write as "anonymous" if you scroll down the options of how you want to leave a comment (yes, I'm bribing you with food to comment... this tactic works with boyfriends, I'm hoping it will work with you... and I mean that in the most loving way possible).

Then for music I have decided to post some tunes in honor of one of our roommates, Mary, who left us this semester to study abroad in London (we miss you terribly!). Please also check out her blog about her adventures in London :)

Also some topics I can write about in the following weeks: 
-Science of Kissing (based on the book as well as a New York Times article)
-biofuel topics
-find a journal article on how art and science relate
-no science anything next time, just some random stories from Boston (aka: my life is a joke series)
-combos? any ideas? (engineering, physics, etc)
Please tell me what you want to read, your wish is my command.

Enjoy!

First Aid Kit: Wolf
Lone Bellow: Tree to Grow
Anais Mitchell: Young Man in America

Butter Crust: 1 cup of sea salted butter (melted) , 4 tbl water, 2 1/2 cups of flour
Combine and knead until fully mixed. Lay out evenly in a 9 inch pie plate leaving about a 1/4 of the dough left over for the lattice structure.

Apple Pie: 5-6 (maybe 7) mixed apples, 1 tbl vanilla, 1/2 tbl cinnamon, 1/2 tbl nutmeg, 1/2 cup sea salted butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3 tbl all purpose flour, 1/4 cup water
Peel apples and slice thinly. Mix in bowl the apples, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Put the apples in the pie dish you had made prior and form lattice structure of pie with remaining crust. In a sauce pan, add butter and melt before adding flour. Make it into a paste and then add remaining ingredients (sugar, brown sugar, and water). Bring to a boil and then let it simmer for 5 minutes. Using a brush or spoon, pour mixture over the lattice structure covering all areas of the pie (try not to spill - I always leak over the pie so I find a brush is really helpful). Put in the oven at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes and then 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees F (I find if your apples are hard go for the full 45 minutes).