Thursday, March 11, 2010

Zapped by lighting and chimeras

It's been a while since I blogged for the simple reason that my home computer got zapped by lightning! (source of picture). After the usual round of calling up the TM and Streamyx customer service helplines, and they were very helpful by the way, it was diagnosed that my Ethernet card had been fried to a crisp. So, now that the glitch has been rectified, I can blog as often as I want to. What a relief! Being cut off from blogosphere and the cyberworld can be painful and I am humbled by the might of technology. How did I, and possibly the rest of the civilised world, become so dependent on it?

For a writer, when the urge to write strikes you it feels much like being zapped by lightning. The nicest thing about blogging is
that I can jot down my brainwaves as it comes and save the ideas until I can come back to refine my thoughts at a more convenient time. Blogging puts me in touch with my inner self and, like all writers, artistes, performers and like-minded creatures, we bloggers crave fans. So when a few of my workmates asked how come I hadn't updated my blog for some time, my humble heart swelled with a feeling akin to pride. I was touched that they actually did visit my blog, even if it is because I sent them emails inviting them to feed my fish and frog and to play with my spider.

Now that I added an amazingly brilliant baby widget, visitors can get to see a real time simulation of how a fetus grows as it floats in mummy's amniotic fluid, wrapped in the safe, warm and dark placenta attached to the womb lining by a gazillion blood capillaries. I am counting the days to see how baby grows. I'm not worried about blog traffic and should anyone stumble across my blog I hope they find it a fun place to visit. Who knows maybe we will learn a thing or two about biotech and the life sciences. I may not get a zillion hits nor make trillions in profits, it doesn't matter. The internet and blogosphere has given me an outlet for my creative instincts and has given me good reason to brush up my rusty science. The research I need to do to verify details and backup my observations reminds me what a fascinating world we live in if we care to take a closer look. Indeed, good scientists have incredible powers of observation

Just the other night, because I was unable to blog, I decided to watch Crime Scene Investigation aka CSI on TV and, as luck would have it I caught the episode "Bloodlines". I was totally intrigued because it was about a man with two different sets of DNA, by definition he was a chimera. Apparently, at the zygote or blastocyst stage he was on the way to become a twin. However, the brother's zygote didn't develop further. Instead the DNA was reabsorbed into his own and although he developed from a single zygote, parts of him developed from remnants of his twin. He became one person but some of his organs and tissues had different DNAs. In this specific episode I would infer that his testes developed from his brother's cells so the DNA in his sperm did not match those from his own cheek cells. Thus, despite the rape victim having positively identified him, the CSI team had to release him as they had used his cheek DNA to fingerprint him against the perpetrator's semen. The giveaway that alerted the very observant and scientific Grissom, my all time favourite CSI agent who by the way in the show is an entomologist or more endearingly termed a bugologist, was that there were v-patterned striations down the guys back. Needless to say the scumbag was caught but he certainly did not look like the creature from Greek mythology. (source of picture)

Biology also abounds with stories of chimeras in both the plant and animal world, some naturally occurring and some a result of scientific experimentation but none as bizarre as those creatures of myths. Chimeras are often confused with hybrids that result from a fusion of gametes or reproductive cells that develop into organisms with only one distinct set of DNA that show traits from the original source or parent as chimeras are organisms that have two or more genetically different tissues. So what is the implication of chimeras in biotechnology? Now things are just about to get even more complicated!

In genetic engineering, chimeras are artificially designed proteins that result from the splicing together genes from different species used to study disease development. When cloned into a bacterial plasmid (a molecule of bacterial DNA capable of autonomous replication) the chimera is able to replicate the selected proteins expressed by the gene in large amounts within the cellular environment of the bacteria. This then can be used by scientists to study gene expression of selected portions of DNA. In biotechnology, plasmids (source of picture) can be used in the manufacture of large amounts of proteins such as insulin by growing bacteria containing the plasmid that expresses the gene for producing human insulin protein. By replicating, the plasmids also copy the insulin genes, essentially cloning the genes. The bacteria then manufacture the human insulin protein molecules that can then be gathered and purified (source of picture) for use by millions of people suffering from diabetes. In fact this was the technology adopted by Genentech to produce human insulin.

I remember when I was doing my Master of Science in Biological Sciences, plasmid biology was the newest "in thing" in my Molecular Biology course. Although I later dropped the course because of an unmanageably packed semester schedule, I sensed a huge interest in recombinant DNA technology and genetic engineering even way back then. Now there is even a society for people who work with plasmids. Amazing stuff these chimeras! As to my claim of being a chimera of sorts, I'm afraid no zygotic fusion took place during my conception as both my parents were neither scientists nor journalists!

Blogging about being zapped by lightning has made me recall the most electrifying and eye opening trip I ever had as a journalist invited to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel-ISEF) in 1999 when it was hosted by Philadelphia, home of Ben Franklin, the electric lightning man himself! This truly awesome science event is a gathering of the best and brightest high school kids from all over the world to compete in what is considered the Olympics of science fairs but more on that later. Till then I leave you with this classic song by Chicago, "If you leave me now". This song just has a way of zapping my heart with aching nostalgia every time l listen to it. They made great music in the 70s!


Post a Comment

Design by sudhanshu. Converted To Web By SUDHANSHU RATNA THAKUR