The Brain in Your Gut

By: Alli Fries, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

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Credit: John A. Beal, via Wikimedia Commons

Generally, when people think about neuroscience, the image that comes to mind is the human brain. The brain—an oblong-shaped bulb with grooves and textures, which is reminiscent of a bowl of spaghetti. More ambitious folks might make it past the brain, moving as far as the spinal cord and acknowledging its worth for nervous system functioning. But very few people, if any, think about guts.

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How Can We Win the War on Cancer?

By: Ross Keller, 2nd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

Lung cancer cell division, SEMIn 1971, President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, which later became known as the beginning of the “War on Cancer.” Now, 42 years later, are we any closer to winning the war?

To answer this question, we need to explore what cancer is.

Cancer is described as the uncontrolled growth of our own cells. Normally, cells have a designated number of times then can divide and are genetically programmed when to do so. But when certain genes become “broken” via a mutation, which is a change in the DNA blueprints, the cell is free to divide unchecked.

Interestingly, mutations happen all the time in our cells. There are billions of possible mutations in our genome—but there are also billions and billions of cells. So, why is cancer, overall, rare?

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Serendipity in Science: Understanding How Accidents Can Lead to Scientific Discoveries

By: Sadie Steffens, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

science_labWhen the word “science” comes to mind, I think about carefully planned experiments designed to test a hypothesis.  These experiments are expected to produce a certain result to verify a scientific claim—but often, these carefully planned experiments yield unexpected, or even unwanted, results.

Indeed, history reminds us that many of the most innovative and monumental discoveries have been made by accident.

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DNA and Epigenetics: Understanding the Blueprint of Life (Part 2)

By: Patrick Brown, 2nd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

miceIn Part I of my discussion of DNA and epigenetics, I described how DNA is first converted into mRNA via transcription, then mRNA is translated into protein. Once proteins are made from this genetic code, they can begin doing work in cells.

I ended the last article with the question: how does the body choose which genes are expressed in which cells? Here I will discuss the concept of epigenetics and its role in shaping protein expression.

We can see the effects of epigenetics all around us. Many proteins are expressed differently between males and females – these proteins are under epigenetic control. If epigenetic marks are abnormal, then certain cancers become more prevalent. The most visible difference in epigenetic marks is seen in the coat color of the agouti mouse. Each mouse pictured (above) is genetically identical, but contains different amounts of a specific epigenetic mark. How can they have the same genes, but have different coat colors? Continue reading

DNA and Epigenetics: Understanding the Blueprint of Life

By: Patrick Brown, 2nd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

DNA StrandsDue to hit shows like CSI and The Big Bang Theory as well as an increase in news reporting, there is a growing interest in the various fields of biological science. As a scientist, I encourage everyone to learn more about the processes and molecules that make life possible. Unfortunately, it can be a daunting task for someone unfamiliar with science jargon to get simple questions answered or learn more about a topic of interest to them. So where to begin? Let’s start with the building block of life: DNA. Continue reading