30 January 2006

Gene SLC6A4

Something cool that I learned recently...

The serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 is polymorphic with three distict alleles (consisting of a 44bp insertion or deletion): s/L, s/s, L/L. People with an s allele (genotype s/s or s/L) tend to have lower functioning of the serotonin transporter, which is indirectly associated with depression. Essentially, having an s allele doesn't cause depression, but combined with specific environmental factors (nurture) it is significantly more likely to result in a depressive episode. Unfortunatley, this allele is also associated with poorer outcomes of SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) treatment; currently the most prevelant drug prescribed for depression.

27 January 2006

Photos and Fungi

The first photos from Philadelphia are up on the photostream.

Here's what I learned today... genetically fungi are more closely related to animals than plants. I wonder how vegans feel about mushrooms then (yes, that was a bad joke)? Another surprise: crocodiles are more closely related to birds than lizards and snakes. Apparently this all falls under the lively and vigorous field of systematics (taxonomy using genetic rather than morphological characteristics).

And tomorrow I get to use both morphology and mitochondrial DNA sequencing to try and place my mystery insect into a phylogenic order. Granted, the fact that I get to send DNA out for sequencing is seriously cool, but I just can't wait until I get to start dissections (squid, shark, pig...etc).

26 January 2006

Kidney Failure

Today's insight may not be quite the learning experience yesterday's was, but it's medical in nature and well... I'm sure I'll start seeing this kind of thing in medical school. There's a blog I read regularly by a current med student and this particular post considers a patient with renal failure. Basically, his kidneys stopped working and it had a rather unfortunate effect. The post contains a picture so I suggest you not be eating when you have a look...HERE.

You Learn Something Every Day

One of the great things about being in school again, especially in
such an exceptionally focused environment like mine, is that you are
constantly learning something new in a field for which you have a real
passion. In order to share some of that I'm going to try and report
one thing each day that I'm learning. I'm not talking about a physics
equation (hey, did you know that force is equal to mass times
acceleration?) or something else so banal, but instead I'll try to
touch on some tidbit at the frontier of what constitutes the
scientific realm. Let me know what you think of these...

Today's interesting thought comes from my recent research in
schizophrenia for my biological basis of psych disorders class (we
call it BIBB: Biological Basis of Behavior). Christos Davatzikos and
team have been completing full brain MRIs of patients with
schizophrenia and have found that there is a significant difference in
the brain volume of afflicted people, especially in the frontotemporal
region. Researchers at UCLA have come to similar conclusions both in
afflicted people and in their relatives (schizophrenia has a strong
inherited genetic componant) and the optimistic implication of all
this is (in the future) would be the ability to diagnose based on
imaging and, assuming the correct anti-psychotic drugs can be
developed, treatment for people at risk before their first
psychotic break (ie, before they become symptomatic).

Davatzikos' paper can be found in the Archives of General
Psychiatry/Vol 62 Nov 2005
The work at UCLA can be found at

On a more personal, this-is-my-blog kind of note...
I had a real scare with my IPOD yesterday when I couldn't transfer
songs anymore. The same thing happened to Brad's and he couldn't fix
it, so he had to shell out for a new one. I took the radical step of
reformatting it (like wiping your hard drive and reinstalling the OS)
and it *seems* to be functioning now. Thank god.
I had my first chemistry quiz - on enthalpy and Hess's law - but the
grades aren't up yet. Fingers crossed. I also turned in my first
papers for BIBB - on schizophrenia, suicide, and neurogenesis (the
growth of new neurons, specifically in the adult brain). Again,
fingers crossed.

Two songs you should check out:
1. Jacques Lu Cont remix of A Pain that I'm Used to [Depeche Mode]
2. Struggle by Ringside

Life is good.

22 January 2006

Weekend shifting

Since I have no class on Monday, but I do have Biology lecture and lab on Saturday, my weekends have shifted from Friday night through Sunday to Saturday night through Monday. Actually, let's be honest, I went out on Friday night as well...

Biology lab looks like it's going to be pretty interesting in about 4 or 5 weeks when we start dissections, but until then I'll just have to console myself that my eight person lab table is populated with the same people that sit around the bar tables we occupy practically every night for a beer or two.

Saturday night the girls went out for Burmease food before cocktails at the Walnut room and meeting up with the boys at Fado. It can safely be said that I exceeded my recommended alcohol limit, but apparently I was also pretty hilarious in the process. It is comforting to know I'm not a boring drunk.

Today Jo and I took a study break to head in town and stop at Trader Joes and decided to hang around and watch Match Point as well. It's not "Annie Hall" Woody Allen, but it's unexpected, direct, and very well executed. Two thumbs up.

I have my first quiz, in chemistry, on Tuesday and my first written assignments, in neural basis of psychiatric disorders, due on Wednesday, so it should be an interesting week.

20 January 2006

First kiss in Philly

yeah... it happened in a cab after going out for beers with some friends. We shared a cab back and well, just before he got out... : ) It's scary how easily my life is coming together here and how stupidly happy I am.

19 January 2006

Classes Finalised

I have rearranged my schedule and finalised my courseload for the semester. I will be taking three classes:
- Biology II with lab
- Chemistry II
- Biological Basis of Pyschiatric Disorder
Less exciting for you, but highly anticipated for me, is tomorrow morning's cable tv and internet installation. Yes, this will mean I can watch television and surf the internet right in my very own home, something I have had to visit the library to do thus far.
I also discovered the wonders of the university pool. I went lap swimming after my run yesterday but felt a little foolish because the only bathing suit I have with me is my bikini. There I am in a pool full of racing suit, rubber-capped, freestyle swimmers and I'm in a bikini with my hair loose and doing the breaststroke. The swimsuit I can change (as soon as mom sends it to me) but I will still do the breaststroke.
Hopefully I will have something more engaging to ruminate on soon.

18 January 2006

Bump: a gay bar in Center City

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my first night out with the post-bac crowd was after a grueling 4.5 hours of thermochemistry lecture at a very orange, very fun gay bar in center city. The crowd was young, the music was perfect and the martinis were on special for $4. Yes, you read that right. NYC = $14, Philadelphia = $4. Brilliant. And these were good martinis too - mine had cranberry juice and champagne but you could get pretty much anything. There were 10 or so of us out and it was just low key and a really good time. We're doing it again on Thursday and early rumours have us going dancing on Saturday. If this stays it's course it's going to be the easiest transition I've ever had to make. I gotta say - right now - I'm loving life here - every moment, every class, every person and very definately, ever square inch of my apartment.

14 January 2006

Welcome to my Post-bac

Right, so the Thailand/Tokyo adventure is complete and we're on to the post-baccalareaute, pre-medical journey. I've had my first full week of classes so far and here's what I'm taking: Chem II, Bio II, Bio II lab, Clinical Research in Emergency Medicene, and Medical Spanish I. Yes, it's quite a lot, especially since I'm also trying to get a job (so if you need a research assistant or a tutor, please let me know).
This week was spent living on the couch of a friend from undergrad since I can't move into my one-bedroom (that happens tomorrow actually). It's actually been really helpful because she's shown me around a bit and introduced me to a few people.
Also very helpful, the son of the neighbor of my ex-roommate's parents (you read that right), who works in the obesity research lab at Penn. He invited me out for Mad Mex margaritas with his colleagues and before you know it we were discussing the sexual habits of obese people (yes, that's a study) as well as whether exploitation is an inherent characteristic of industrialisation. Ah yes, welcome back to college life.
After doing four hours of thermochem homework (half a problem set) on Thursday night I was introduced to another lovely establishment that looks like a rennovated cottage but is, in fact, a lisenced alcohol-serving establishment. The specialty of the house was a rather nice old English hot toddy (apple cider with brandy) which proved to be a nice way to end the day.
Wednesday I got to catch up with another college friend who was in town for a consulting project and tomorrow I'm hoping to see yet another undergrad friend who's here on a PhD track - don't worry, I'm certain my social life will come to an abrrupt halt soon and you can hear more fascinating posts on population genetics and electroplating. Or maybe something really cool will come through the ER doors and get wheeled into the trauma bay and I'll have nothing better to do for five minutes than watch as the guy who fell 40 feet gets patched up by a team of no fewer than 5 doctors... I mean, it could happen.


Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

I break tradition
Sometimes my tries are outside the lines
We've been conditioned to not make mistakes
But I can't live that way
[Natasha Bedingfield]