My Life This July: In Which America and I Have Birthdays and I Acquire Many Books

My word, it’s the last Saturday of the month already. (Actually, the last Friday as I’m typing this, but you know. . . .) This month has been rather a whirlwind, but I find they’re all like that these days. In fact, it’s hard to think of a time when they weren’t. It would have to be before my memory.

Anyway . . . with that little ramble behind us, let’s get on with today’s post! On the last Saturday of each month, I post a little (long) blurb about my life this month, some notable things I did, etc. Probably the most notable thing that happened to me this month was that I became a year older than I was last year. (In simpler words, I had a birthday, so I’m nineteen now.) And the country I live in decided, as usual, to promptly follow up with its own birthday. (Read: My birthday is July 3rd. Independence Day is July 4th. People are always shooting off fireworks on my birthday for some reason.) America is now 240, a good bit older than I am and a nice round number to celebrate. I’m excited to be around for the 250th in ten years!

For those of you wondering, I had a nice time on my birthday. Chocolate cake and beloved family members help with that. (I cannot, however, say whether America had a nice time on its birthday. Sorry.)

Books also helped with my having a nice time on my birthday, or, more generally, the week of my birthday. I received Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland as a gift, which I initially thought was pleasant, because I read Weiland’s blog (Helping Writers Become Authors) devoutly; her writing advice has really helped me, and I wanted to read one of her books. Six days later, I put the book down and proceeded to rant and rave about it to my best friend. (Look for my review next month! But while you’re waiting, go start reading Dreamlander right now.)

It’s such a good book!

 

Near the end of the week, my library held its annual book sale, with hardcovers for $1 and paperbacks for $.50. There were many great deals. I picked up Isaac Asimov’s Nemesis and The Rest of the Robots to contribute to my current sci-fi kick (and Nemesis is a beautiful hardback, too!), a thriller called First Daughter by Eric van Lustbader which looked like it fell into the same genre as the Grisham and Clancy books I’ve taken up lately, and a sleek translation of Beowulf with English and Old English on facing pages. That should be interesting when I get around to tackling it. For nonfiction, I grabbed an encyclopedia of cacti, a volume called Power Unseen: How Microbes Rule the World, and a forty-year-old title on The Biology of Flowering, to complement the old textbooks that have been lying around free outside my lab.

I’m reading Nemesis right now.

 

Speaking of the lab, in general updates, I have continued enjoying my summer research. I did another DNA extraction last week, and have been raising up little seaweeds in culture plates. I can’t believe my fellowship will be over in a couple weeks, and a couple weeks after that, I start classes again. . . .

Another general update pertains to my book Windsong (which I guess is the official title since I can’t think of a better one). I was gifted Scrivener for my birthday, and promptly (ignoring much of the ages-long tutorial) copied Windsong into this fancy new software and started organizing. (When I say “promptly,” I mean it took me three weeks to copy and paste all the scenes.) Now, I’ve finally starting kicking into gear on my editing, which means I may have this draft finished before the fall semester starts! (Actually, knowing me, I probably won’t, but it’s worth a shot.)

And that’s the major points of my month!

How was your month? What did you do? Did you acquire any books? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? Did you have a birthday this month? If you’re American, how did you celebrate the Fourth of July? Tell me in the comments!

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Mosquitoes, Malaria, and Molecular Biology: How DNA can Help Kill a Disease

Happy second Saturday, everyone! It’s time for a science post. For today’s post, I visited the Science News website and browsed around for something interesting to talk about. There were a lot of options, but I settled on this one. All credit goes to the original authors.

I’m sure you’ve heard of malaria. It is commonly known to be rampant in third-world areas, particularly Africa. It’s caused by microorganisms of the genus Plasmodium, which have part of their life cycle in mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. This makes it that much harder to eradicate, since any disease or parasite with what’s called an “animal vector” requires health workers to eliminate every animal that could carry the disease. Imagine trying to kill every one of the 30-40 malaria-transmitting Anopheles mosquito species in Africa, and you have some idea of why malaria is so hard to get rid of.

So essentially, to end the disease, end the mosquito. But how?

Using everyone’s favorite molecule, of course: DNA!

Scientists at Imperial College London have developed a “gene drive,” an engineered DNA molecule that disrupts genes’ activity by inserting itself into them, that is capable of sterilizing females of one Anopheles species. That could curb the reproduction of the mosquito, and thus the number of mosquitoes available to carry Plasmodium. 

 

 

Plasmodium, the malaria parasite. (Image from the CDC)

This is actually the second Anopheles gene drive to be developed by the same researchers. The other one (findings published 2015) aimed to prevent Anopheles from carrying Plasmodium. So far, both of them work, though neither has yet been released into the wild Anopheles population. But both have potential to help stop malaria.

There you have it: another manifestation of the current genetics revolution. (I must admit I am partial to blogging about said revolution, being a major DNA geek.) What do you think of these gene drives that might help eliminate malaria? Do you like DNA as much as I do? Share in the comments! Also, if you’d like to learn more about today’s topic, be sure to check out the links in the post!

My Life This May: In Which I Finish My First Year of College,Win a Free Book, and Climb Over Rocks in Search of Seaweed

Hello, and welcome to today’s (celebratory) “My Life This Month” post! I am going to deal with the things in the title in chronological order, so finishing my first year of college will have to wait a couple paragraphs, but that is mostly what I’m celebrating this month.

I actually won the free book at the very end of last month. I was surprised and pleased, since despite entering various giveaways whenever I get the chance (nothing better than free books, right?), I have never won one before! I reviewed the said book, Edge of Oblivion by Joshua A. Johnston, last week, so you can click here to see what I thought of it.

Now on to the main event! Halfway through this month, I finished my first year of college, which is a little crazy. It seems like I just started. I was thinking about it, and I’ve learned so much since then, and not all about academics:

  • Having a good teacher makes a class that much better.
  • Gas prices fluctuate constantly. Try not to fuss too much.
  • Don’t discount anything before you’ve looked into it. Your last option might become your first.
  • Backups happen, and there may not be a way around them. Leave the house early enough that you can sit in traffic and still be early to class.
  • An empty lecture hall is a rare and beautiful thing.
  • Chemistry is a hard subject. Grade scaling is necessary and good for your GPA.
  • Calculus is easy. (Stranger things have happened.)
  • It is possible to eat applesauce with a fork. (Seriously.)
  • Commuting can be frustrating because it makes it harder to make friends.
  • Commuting is great because your only roommate is your cat and you get to see your family every day. Plus, when your residential classmates are complaining about packing, you can smile to yourself and think, “I don’t have to do that. . . .”
  • That first semester is rough. Give it time, and college will become one of the best experiences of your life.

I have finished a variety of classes this year:

  • General Chemistry I and II
  • Introductory Biology I and II
  • First-Year Writing
  • Professional Perspectives in Biology
  • Calculus for Life Sciences
  • Global Public Health Issues
  • Myths and Misconceptions about Nuclear Science

And here’s what I hope to tackle next year:

  • Principles of Genetics
  • Genetics Lab
  • Organic Chemistry I and II
  • Applied Biostatistics
  • Introductory Physics I and II
  • Biotechnology and Society

Hopefully, the scheduling will work out for half of those in the spring.

Even though I’ve officially finished my classes for the year, I’m still at UNH for the summer. I mentioned last month that I got a research fellowship to study seaweed, and this week, it started. On Monday, I found myself slipping and sliding over rocks trying to get under a bridge and find a very specific kind of seaweed.

Porphyra umbilicalis, a type of nori, or sushi seaweed. (Image not mine)

The goal is eventually to domesticate this seaweed, P. umbilicalis, but first we have to find out what species it is. On Thursday, I and the grad student in the lab got some samples from Dover Point, under another bridge (I’m fairly sure the people walking by thought I was crazy when I started shouting to the grad student that “I found some!”). I extracted the DNA from those on Friday, and next week, hopefully, we can use the DNA to identify what species we got (as long as I, ahem, actually got DNA out of the extraction).

As far as writing goes, I made some progress on my book this month, even with finals week smack in the middle. I rewrote most of the beginning, which made it a good bit shorter (it was proportionally too long for the book), and started putting in a new scene. Editing goes slowly, but it does go on. I also gave in and started outlining another idea that has been nagging at my brain for months. I’m not sure how far I’ll go through with it, so I won’t give you any tidbits just yet, but I hope (right now) to have it outlined fully by the end of the year, so that by the time I send Windsong off to beta readers, I’ll have something else to start writing.

And that’s my life this month!

What was your life like this month? Did you get much writing done? Have you ever won a free book? Did you also finish a year of high school or college? If so, post in the comments, and we can celebrate!

 

 

 

A Blurb on Bioinformatics: Why We Geneticists Need Computers

I was going to write a longer post for this week, but due the three finals I’ve had in the past two days and the one I have coming up on Monday, I found myself scrambling to put a post together. I may tackle the Human Genome Project (today’s intended topic) another time, when it’s not finals week. Today, I will offer one of my favorite scientific rants: bioinformatics.

Or, why geneticists should learn computer programming. (Image not mine)

The above image shows you a schematic (technically called a “space-filling model”) of DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, one of my favorite molecules and one of the most awesome things in the universe. (But I digress. . . .) Here is a simpler picture of DNA for you.

(Image not mine)

 

 

This image clearly shows the iconic DNA double helix, along with something very important: base pairing. As you may have heard in high school biology class, DNA’s information is encoded in the “base pairs,” pairs of nucleotide bases (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine) that hydrogen-bond with each other. (Don’t worry about what a hydrogen bond is. It doesn’t really matter unless you’re a biochemist. What matters is that the bases pair.) Adenine (A), as you can see in the image, only pairs with thymine (T), and guanine (G) only with cytosine (C). This is responsible for a lot of important properties of DNA, such as coding for proteins and RNAs, which I won’t go into here. This is why knowing the “sequence” of bases along the DNA in a chromosome, or in an entire genome (all the genetic material in an organism), is useful.

Here is an illustration of chromosomes for you. (Image not mine)

The problem with that? Any given organism (even a bacterium!) has a lot of DNA.

Take humans, for example. Almost any given cell in your body (except red blood cells, which have no nuclei) has a copy of your entire genome, coiled up into 46 chromosomes, two copies each of 23 unique chromosomes (except the X and Y chromosomes, which are not copies of each other, per se). All together, those little chromosomes contain about 2 meters (5-6 feet) of DNA. Think about it: if stretched out, your DNA would be about as long as you are tall. That’s in each cell, folks.

It staggers the mind. Which is why we need computers.

This is where we get “bioinformatics”: using computers to study life. (Image not mine)

Genomics (the study of whole genomes) is having a revolution right now. And this field of study relies on computers, so guess what? Bioinformatics is big. Programming classes are offered for bioscience majors, and bioinformatics options for computer science majors. Though I’m not a genomics student, I will probably take a bioinformatics programming course later in my college career, because that’s where the field is going. And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. My genetics rant for the day. I hope you enjoyed it.

(Image not mine)

Have you ever heard of bioinformatics? Do you like DNA as much as I do? (I know, I know, I’m a nerd. . . .) How about computers? (I don’t like them very much, but it’s great if you do. The world needs more computer people.) Share in the comments!