Rainstorm 2020

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has forced schools and other forms of learning to be remote. One of these programs is the Splash academic outreach program that is conducted by many universities for high school students. Usually these are presented in-person at the universities’ campuses but since the pandemic, these outreach programs have gone online like the Yale Splash event, UC Berkeley Splash, JHU Splash and others. Rainstorm Splash is a virtual program is presented by Learning Unlimited and consists of teacher volunteers from other universities teaching new and interesting topics. Here are some of the topics that were very informative.

I learnt about how we get to see really small things beyond the physical limits that constrain conventional optical microscopes (Galbraith & Galbraith, 2011) in the “Super Resolution Microscopy” class. This is very useful to biologists since they can see how the cells function and visualize how the individual molecules dynamically interact with each other. Various approaches to super resolution microscopy were discussed. Many of these approaches use the green fluorescent protein (GFP) to tag certain proteins in order to observe the proteins’ behavior (Goodsell, 2003). The GFP emit fluorescent light when its irradiated with light of a certain wavelength e.g. special lasers, thereby using it to identify the protein under study. Another approach is to physically expand the size of the specimen by affixing it to a polymer network so that it can be viewed by microscopes (Chen, Tillberg & Boyden, 2015 ). Super resolution micrososcopy is a very useful tool in genetic engineering as it will allow scientists to view the interactions and structure of the chromosomes and associated molecules.

Did you know that octopuses can dynamically modify their mRNA so that they can create proteins that are different from the instructions in their DNA? I learnt this fascinating information from the “History of Molecular Biology” class. Octopuses and other cephalopods like squids and cuttlefish can edit their RNA sequences in their nervous systems to adapt to their environment (Dean, 2019). This modification of the RNA after a DNA sequence is transcribed to the RNA molecule. This opens up a lot of possibilities and is one of the next frontiers of molecular biology e.g. creating new mRNA vaccines that target and silence genes causing diseases ( Schaefer, Kapoor & Jantsch, 2017).

There were other interesting classes where I saw how a surgeon removes the appendix through small incisions in the “Ask a Surgeon about Appendicitis” webinar. New minimally invasive techniques lead to quicker healing time and less scarring. I also learnt that we actually have 9 senses in the “Neurons, Mobility, and Rehabilitation Engineering: Current Topics” lecture. In addition to the common 5 senses, the other 4 senses are balance (vestibular), Proprioception (body awareness), temperature and pain. Various diseases like stroke, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s and others were discussed due to injuries and impact to the sensorimotor system (mechanisms responsible for the body movements). Modern rehabilitation methods that are used to assist patients were discussed. The use of radiation in destroying cancer cells to prevent the tumor growth was presented in the “Radiation Oncology” lecture. The lecture also gave an overview of various cancer treatments. Finally, Tanvi Banota‘s presentation titled “A Battle of Forces: The Role of Inflammation in Diseases” explained how the body’s immune system responds to an irritant. Using the “Star Wars” analogy of good and bad, inflammation caused by microphages (a type of immune cells) in order to fight germs is “good” but the body’s immune system can also cause inflammation that goes on for too long is “bad” and this affects the person’s health. Just like the Jedi are needed to keep “the Force in balance”, a balance to the immune system’s response is needed in healing the injury. Very interesting topic indeed!

References

Galbraith, C., & Galbraith, J. (2011, May 15). Super-resolution microscopy at a glance. Retrieved April 17, 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1242/jcs.080085

Goodsell, D. (2003). PDB101: Molecule of the Month: Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). RCSB: PDB-101. http://pdb101.rcsb.org/motm/42

Chen, F., Tillberg, P. W., & Boyden, E. S. (2015). Optical imaging. Expansion microscopy. Science (New York, N.Y.)347(6221), 543–548. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1260088

Dean, S. (2019, March 9). Octopus And Squid Evolution Is Officially Weirder Than We Could Have Ever Imagined. ScienceAlert. https://www.sciencealert.com/it-s-official-octopus-and-squid-evolution-is-weirder-than-we-could-have-ever-imagined

Schaefer M., Kapoor U. & Jantsch, M. F. (2017) Understanding RNA modifications: the promises and technological bottlenecks of the ‘epitranscriptome’. Open Biology. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsob.170077

Image created by freepik – www.freepik.com

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