New superheroes – Science, Math and Botany #researchsaves

Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015), movies whose stories all take place in zero gravity, dusty martian surfaces and interstellar environments are trying to send us a very subliminal message inadvertently of course.

An artist's rendering of a monster black hole at the center of a galaxy. Yes, we have one also in the center of our beautiful galaxy.
An artist’s rendering of a monster black hole at the center of a galaxy. Yes, we have one also in the center of our beautiful galaxy.

Is the message coming to us from beings that have understood the string theory and managed to treat time like the edge of a table they sit on everyday?

337742_the_martian
The Martian,now a major motion movie playing everywhere brings a whole new kind of player to the superhero game- science, math and the botanist.

If these beings had a message they were trying to impart to us, I would take a gander and say that they are trying to say, ” Wake up everyone, its time to science the shit out of all our problems and save humanity.” Anyone who has seen the Martian know this line which Matt Damon’s character jokingly says with an underlying truth i.e. the problem is real, it is a life or death situation but we can do it by using science.

“Gravity Poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

The movies all stand witness to the problem solving nature of the human brain and what we are truly capable of in order to survive. For 200,000 years, since the human brain of our species Homo sapiens diverged from the common human ancestor, we have been solving problems to help our species survive.

This is what I want to see when I open the paper tomorrow, headlines that read:

                                                                            “Scientists cure cancer.”

                                                                                “Scientists cure HIV.”

                                     “Scientists find a way to create a renewable energy source.”

Plants grown in space last year by NASA
Plants grown in space in 2014 by NASA

“Scientists grow plants in space.” Well this actually happened last year as NASA              scientists figured it out.

But, what do I get instead?

(Photo composite: Yahoo News, photos: Riccardo De Luca/AP, Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
(Photo composite: Yahoo News, photos: Riccardo De Luca/AP, Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

It really is time to wake up, use the power that has been given to each and everyone of us in the space between our heads, instead of wasting our intelligence.

Scientists in the movie The Martian (2015) unite from every corner of the globe regardless of nationality, color, creed, race or any other categorical definition that can separate us and solves the problem. Considering that the world was witness to the U.N General Assembly drama, a week before the movie was released serves as a stark reminder that the ideal situation of global co-operation in the movie is a far cry from our woeful reality. The movie also serves a stark reminder to our government, that without the kind of money that needs to be put BACK into research, we stand a chance of grievously falling behind. #POTUS, please increase the NIH funding :),  it will be the greatest executive order you could fulfill before you leave office.

One can only hope, that future generations will get to read the headlines I posted in this article #researchsaves, and my personal message to #KimDavis, please leave the Pope alone.

خداحافظی                                              

Cloned dogs for $100,000 now available, Frankenstein not yet.

Cloned dogs in Louisiana. Click on picture for NPR article and Photo Credit.

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, a literature classic that showcased the feelings of a monster that was reanimated to life from different human cadaver parts. At the end of the book, the monster’s humanity far outshone its creators- a mad scientist trying who wanted to defeat the scourge of death in 1818.

J.R.Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings trilogy had characters called Ents who highlighted the importance of ecological and scientific conservation of nature for survival of all life on earth soon after World War I.

Will we ever learn or are the classics of literature and its lessons to be relegated to the dusty shelves of old libraries?

Dr. Hwang Woo Sook from Soam Biotech in Korea, a disgraced scientist who claimed he had cloned human embryos was found to be false and unethical on many counts in 2006. However, he is now being reported to clone dogs for pet owners for $100,000.

Am I going to judge a grieving pet owner with money to spend for cloning his or her dog? No.

What I am worried about it is how much longer will unregulated genetic cloning without proper oversight from a world body go on before we find out that human embryos have been cloned secretly if possible for an absurd inordinate sum of money.

Science without regulation has the power to be misused and much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the cloned dog embryo is zapped with a jolt of electricity to kickstart its division. Are we on our way to loosing a part of our humanity as well with that jolt of electricity as was seen in Frankenstein?

Sayonara.

CRISPR gets crispier :) #research #genes #researchsaves #Jurrasicworld #CRISPR

The dream of bringing the T. rex as shown in so many movies, the most recent one being Jurassic World captures everyone’s imagination. The movie Jurassic World along with its predecessors, many zombie and vampire movies all talk about gene splicing and adding a trait from one species to another. You can imagine what many molecular cell biologists, geneticists and many other individuals involved in research using cutting edge technologies groan when they see the term used liberally. It lulls the avid movie fan who may not have exposure to the difficulties and advancements in gene splicing technologies into a false impression that mixing DNA between species and getting a fully functional organism is easy.

King Kong (2005)
King Kong (2005)

In the world of gene splicing, the term that is driving all the researchers wild just as the new Halo 5 due to be released in November 2015 is going to drive all the gamers wild, is CRISPR-CAS9. Researchers are now able to actually edit DNA and insert with some restrictions pieces of DNA that gives them the trait or molecular effect they are looking for in a cell. Needless to say that, despite technical restrictions like the size of the gene insert and type of cell line used, it has given researchers a more precise cutting tool than PCR which for its time was the major advancement.

CRISPR_logo from Nature

Well, in a nature news update today, CRISPR has just got crispier if I might use the term. Scientists have found a smaller size version of the CAS9 enzyme which makes it easier to insert bigger pieces of DNA into a plasmid.

Check out what Zhang and his team at the BROAD institute have found in this latest Nature update.

Happy Gene cutting everyone.

再见 (Goodbye:))

Viruses, maybe they live!! Also President Obama, Putin and Zarif shakes hands. #Virus #news #Putin #POTUS

Anyone who has studied any level of Biology has been fed the dogma of the definition of the word “alive” or “life”. A virus by definition is not technically “alive” because it can only “come alive” or become active in a specific environment that activate it i.e the inside of a nice cozy nutrition rich cell or body fluids. They are host specific but can be manipulated to infect new hosts if gene re assortment occurs, they can only duplicate using host machinery but till today, they were for all intents and purposes not technically “alive”. Consider this news article that talks about reanimating a 30,000 year old huge Viral particle found underneath the Siberian ice to see how it behaves.( Am I the only one who sees the beginning of yet another zombie movie script with B-actors and even worse cinematography about to happen 🙂 ? )

30,000 year old virus unearthed under the Siberian ice
30,000 year old virus unearthed under the Siberian ice

However a new paper published recently using phylogenmics is forcing scientists to revisit that question along with how, and why viruses have originated. The paper published in Science Advances talks about the evolutionary ancestry of viruses and how they may have come from ancient cell progenitors which harbor segmented RNA.

So, well, that begs the question, what the viral progenitor and the ancient cell progenitor share in common and who belonged to who and when did the break up happen if indeed that is what happened?

Are we finally going to have to change our “life” paradigm about viruses?

Then again, yesterday, President Obama and Prime minister Putin shook hands, President Obama and Iranian Foreign minister Zarif shook hands. The United Nations General Assembly, yesterday was witness to new alliances forming, old ones breaking and political paradigms being tested severely because of certain viruses like ISIS and the unending Syrian conflict putting everybody to the test.

So maybe, change is in the air, in what direction, that is yet to be determined, however as science progresses forward, the most important thing to remember is to never stop asking and questioning.

Auf Widerhesen

Blood Moon and Quantico #bloodmoon #quantico #priyankachopra

Priyanka Chopra. Click on picture for article
Priyanka Chopra. Click on picture for article

The next super moon eclipse will not be till 2033. People who were not out in a dark field like I was with a telescope and Nikki my Nikon D-80, along with a bunch of friends who found a way to throw a frisbee despite the pitch darkness on a slightly cloudy late September evening were probably watching the premiere of Quantico on ABC.

Photo Credit: Varun Kumar
Photo Credit: Varun Kumar

I watched the premiere of Quantico the next day and I could not help but wonder, what will our world be like in 2033. The show is the most popular mainstream show showcasing a talented beautiful actress from a different country to date. Homeland with Nazanin Boniadi was another, but only available to Showtime subscribers.While Americans have been exposed to characters such as Appu from the Simpsons and Kumar from Harold and Kumar along with other stereotypical panderings, this is the first time, I feel that a character is being showcased as a true American-Indian, no, not native American, but a diaspora of people whose heritage is from the Indian sub-continent but grew up in the United States creating a distinct cultural identity which deserves a look free of stereotypes.

Photo Credit: Jacob
Photo Credit: Jacob

Yes, twitter was filled with comments both positive and negative, which comes as no surprise that the positive comments focused on her drop dead gorgeous looks while the more negative ones pointed out that she had an “accent”. Following the GOP candidates and debates, and the liberal use of the term ” American”, to stand for a paradigm that Ben Carson and Donald Trump seem to ascribe to, one must ask, what will that term “American” mean in 2033 when the next blood moon appears.

Will a TV show featuring a beautiful woman from a different country playing an American character be scrutinized for comparisons to other roles from the same ethnicity or will an actress or character’s ethnicity even matter?

Good question, a very good question.

On a lighter note, kudos to ABC for starting the journey to showcasing the distinct Indo-American demographic on TV.

Sayonara

Romance in the deep south. Song by Carolina Lane #bestofme #NicholasSparks

“She turned to face him. ‘What were we thinking?’ ‘We weren’t,’ he said. ‘We were in love.’”-from the The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

'Best of Me' book cover available at nicholassparks.com
‘Best of Me’ book cover available at nicholassparks.com

Who remembers saying these words or something similar to another person close to our heart? I do.

I have always been a secret fan of watching Sparks’s movies with Nights in Rodanthe being my favorite. However, it is not something I readily profess at parties. We all carry within us scars of close emotional bonds that have been broken or best forgotten, but not resolved, perhaps to never be resolved.

All we have to do now is simply delete the person from our smart phones, block their number, email, on every form of social media and it is like the person never existed and the complicated or unresolved situation can be swept away to the far corners of our mind ( I did not say heart, because as a neuroscience guy, it behooves me to point out that the heart does not feel, it is the brain or rather its manifestation- the mind).

As this story shows, in places where lives are intertwined, such as the deep south, digital media and smart phones don’t really hold sway when everyone you know, knows everyone else and it is in these small towns, that the best of Nicholas Sparks’s stories come from in my opinion. Having lived in Mississippi for a year, I found this sense of non-urbana America that held close ties close and where the depth of feelings were deeply felt amidst the small bbq joints and the many churches.

So, is there a person in your life that you have chosen to forget, or have been forgotten by, a relationship that needs to be resolved, or healed- reach out to that person and it is not easy to do so but nothing truly good in life has ever come easy. A rose is nothing without its thorns to protect it and that is true for most real life stories.

Update: Check out this beautiful song by Carolina Lane inspired by the book and movie The Best of Me.

Song inspired The Best of Me movie and book by Carolina Lane.

Adios

An espresso and neuroscience. #researchsaves

20150924_163545The espresso, smooth if prepared well with just enough bitterness to wake you up to the jolt of energy about to come, once the caffeine molecules start antagonizing the adenosine receptors in the central nervous system.

The antagonistic effect of caffeine on these receptors gives you the ‘energy boost’ your brain is craving. Yes, I used the word craving because caffeine is the most unregulated psychoactive nervous stimulant with respect to the quantities it is consumed at, in the world.

While sipping this beautiful cup of doppio, I came across this article posted in the Journal of Neuro-engineering and Rehabilitation which talks about the possibility of setting up an external interface to help a paralyzed man walk again or gain ‘motor’ control over his lower limbs.

The caffeine boost from the doppio is working and I can feel the effects of the stimulant slashing through the mid-afternoon drowsiness, but there are thousands of people for whom this communication between the central and the peripheral nervous system is broken and by extension, the nerves and the muscles. It is akin to having an engine that sends out a signal but due to a bad transmission, the wheels do not turn or the brakes do not stop.

While spinal cord injury research is ongoing in its attempt to repair a broken nerve or restore the communication, it is easier said than done, however, as my hashtag always says, #researchsaves and a majority of this blog will be devoted to talking about science and its insurmountable role in saving lives.

One interesting approach as pointed out in this paper, is to bypass the broken region in the nervous system by having a brain to computer interface that can receive the signal from the brain and then relay it to the muscle.

Now keep in mind, just because you restore the electrical circuit or connection between the brain and the muscle through this interface, the muscles still need to be conditioned to receive the electrical response and act accordingly.

Who remembers the scene from The Matrix(1999) in which Neo escapes from the matrix for the first time after spending his entire life to that point in a jelly filled cocoon?

He spent a good amount of time in a chamber getting all his muscles conditioned to respond to the neural stimulation from his brain which for the first time was actually reaching his muscles unlike the dream like stage he was in till that point.

The paper points towards promising research which one day I hope can help people who have broken spinal cords or some neural communication problem to be able to gain or regain control of their muscles.

Well, I think I need a recharge, do click on the link in the article to read the paper and feel free to share this article with the hashtag #researchsaves

Arrivederci