Dienstag, 24. Juli 2018

Remove the chilli

Sometimes I think the only thing that will save humanity these days is an alien attack.

But anyway, currently, my life in the lab ties me to my computer screen. Specifically, it ties me to the counting of structures that I affectionately call “fufi”. (According to the urban dictionary this is an innocent word for female genitalia but I am trying to establish it as a properly scientific term.) By the way my lab now actually uses the term and I love it. Anyway these are intestinal crypts that stick together. Maybe I should quickly explain. 

The mammalian intestine is lined by a single layer of cells that forms invaginations called crypts and protrusions called villi (note, however, that the colon lacks villi). It is a very rapidly turning over tissue and this is fuelled by the division of stem cells, which reside at the bottom of the crypts. So , crypts are pretty essential for your gut to function properly, as they house the stem cells that make new cells to replace ones that are no longer functional. Unfortunately, those same stem cells are also where we think cancer starts, when the stem cells acquire mutations in their DNA. Anyway, that’s enough science. The point is, it looks like crypts can divide (FIssion) and also merge (FUsion) – hence the term FUFI. Unfortunately, it’s damn hard to observe this process in a live human (I haven’t tried, actually, but just think about it). This is why we have to resort to using tissue that’s been removed from people by surgical resection. We fix it in formaldehyde and embed it in wax. And then we chop it into superthin sections. Or rather, a friendly histopathology assistant expertly performs this action. At this point the tissue reaches my excited self and I stain it. 

And then I count the fufis. I count hundreds and thousands of them. In hundreds of sections. For hours and hours. And yes, you are right – I don’t have a life. But at the same time, I actually do. Because the convenient thing about fufi counting (and admittedly, any type of computer-based work) is that you can do it anywhere, as in, anywhere that allows for human survival (eg the surface of Mars might be tricky)(Ok I admit that wasn’t my best joke ever). So today, I took advantage of the flexibility of fufi counting to go engage in that fascinating activity at my friend’s flat. At lunchtime I got on the train to Kings X and 1h later (including a typical “I am so sorry but we are being held at a red light” 10 minute creativity break) I was there, ready to take on the next 100,000 crypts. (The excitement is real.) My lovely friend had prepared a delicious lunch during which we discussed adult matters such as the hotness of Enrique Iglesias and also a recent wedding I had attended which featured me having to leave for 1.5 h to eat a cheese omelette at a café while everyone else had their meal. I know. I’ll write a separate blog post about that some other time. Having concluded that Enrique was indeed very hot and that such a situation was unheard of we then sat down to work solidly, with an iced coffee and a berry break. So healthy I can’t. Yes apparently coffee is very good for you in fact a recent meta-analysis found that 4 cups daily result in the most desirable health outcomes. So there you go. 

Around 6:30 pm we decided to cook dinner. And you’re probably thinking sweet jesus this is such a boring blog post. And you’re probably right. We cooked palak paneer, the recipe for which included a large chilli, which we chopped up and threw into the pan. Happily chatting away we bubbled our spice-infused situation, fried our paneer and wilted our spinach. Until we got to the end of the recipe where it read “remove the chili”. So then, as I am used to repetitive boring tasks like fufi counting, I painstakenly removed every small bit of chilli I could find in the pan. The meal was delicious. Shortly after I got on the train back to Cambridge, obviously filling the 50 minutes (can you believe it? No red light?) with some beautiful sufis. 

Actually, what I really wanted to illustrate with this blog post is how much I love the flexibility of my life as a PhD student/scientist. I can have a very random work pattern and adapt it to whatever else I like to do with my life. Such as swimming and socialising. Or picking chili pieces out of Indian dishes. It is truly wonderful and I don’t think I would ever want to exchange it for any other type of job. And yes, that chilli bit was obviously not true.

Freitag, 29. Juni 2018

Songs on repeat

It is 22:30 on a Friday night. My boyfriend is out with friends. My friends are out with friends. I am sat in my living room with two laptops. On one of them “Feel” by Robbie Williams is playing on repeat. And I do mean repeat. On the other one, a presentation about intestinal stem cells and cancer is slowly taking shape. Next week I am talking about my research at a school in London and I want to do it well. Safari is open in the background. The latest tab reveals facebook, where I am chatting with a friend who is in the same situation. We are both in a fragile state of mind. We are both fighting the urge to drop things and go enjoy a drink and socialise. And we are discussing a ranking of Britney Spears’ songs. Toxic wins. But in between those desperate calls for help we are actually working, or should I say “sciencing”. Because really, this is not work, it is something else. It is a lifestyle, a life choice. And we will stick to it. (Right?) Things may change but as they stand at the moment, there are few things that could excite me more than a negative crypt (see: https://www.cell.com/cell-stem-cell/abstract/S1934-5909(18)30182-6) or a good piece of Kras sequencing data. I’ve always been relatively nerdy but now I think all hope is lost. Science has me. Feel has probably just played for the 30th time today. Time for a change? Nah, I got too much science running through my veins. Going to waste. And I need to feel, real stem cells. Ok I’m actually going crazy now. It’s now 22:40. I think I’m ready now.
(What for – I don’t know. But I had to somehow round this off with the end of that stupid song)

Sonntag, 24. April 2016

Cora vs America: The next level.

Some people travel to the US and A because of buzzing urban centers like NYC and LA. Others come looking for the grand natural beauty of Yosemite or Yellowstone.  And then there are people like me, whose obsession is to find the bizarre and freaky, of which I dare say there is plenty there.
I arrived in New York City at JFK and was obviously greeted by American flags. But one flag is never enough here. In fact, I have come up with the following hypothesis: No matter where in the USA you are, there will be at least one flag visible in your 360 degree radius. You may use field glasses. He or she who proves me wrong is invited to Five Guys for dinner. Or Shake Shack. Or Chipotle. Which brings us to an important American tragedy: Food. First up: Turkey bacon as tasted at a local brunch place. Looks like bacon. Tastes like shit. Why. Why not just have normal bacon. Why. Apart from that, where do we find the most freaky stuff? In supermarkets. Most days we went to buy ingredients at this place called Stop and Shop. Not sure how you would shop without at least stopping once but never mind. There is obviously a huge flag in the entrance/exit area.

oh 'murica

But that’s by far not the only huge thing in there. How about TWO LITRE bottles of Gatorade? I propose the hashtag #instadiabetes. 

Not large in size but hugely disgusting is my all-time most hated American supermarket item, the egg white carton. The rape of eggdom. I have to distract myself now or the entire rest of this post will be about this problem. So let’s move on.

Are we serious?
To this can that has definitely nothing to do with Switzerland.

It's a no from me.
And most likely not with burgers either. And what about this disgusting-looking cheese? I don't even know what to say...

So what do I do when all these encounters begin to rise to my head? I urge my friend to leave. So we drive away. Sadly driving brings us to another infuriating American problem: Cars. Firstly. WHY. DO. YOU. ALL. NEED. SUCH. LARGE. CARS. Global warming anyone? I just wanna shoot myself. But then, if you study the cars on Long Island more carefully, you will discover that size is not their only ridiculous feature. A significant fraction of the local population enjoys spending (probably very significant) money on personalized number plates. Our friend here for example has a fetish for metal rodents.

My guess is that this guy here is a hunter with two favourite targets. Or maybe he’s just mental.

Finally, a very direct statement by this tractor-owner.

I think we should introduce this in the UK. I can think of 100+ nerdy plates for Cambridge professors. You could go quite subtle, for example C6H1206. OMG I want. There is, funnily, one institution related to cars, that I need to praise. The HOV lane. It’s reserved for high occupancy vehicles. High meaning more than one person. But still, it’s a cute attempt.

Apart from cars I also used the Long Island Railway and subway a fair amount. It’s a great service and obviously the employees are very proud to be part of it. And what better way to show this than with some flags?
I'm so glad you do.

I also had the chance to explore new territories thanks to the express trains. Who knew they don’t stop everywhere? I ended up in Harlem. Sadly it wasn’t Christmas 
Anyway, using these two means of transportation I explored Manhattan. The MoMa and the MET were, as always, fantastic.


And just walking around NYC. All the skyscrapers, all those basic American girls wearing exactly the same outfits, as if it were a uniform: Black leggings, boots and a Starbucks coffee. Who needs Star Wars, the clone wars are happening right here, on 5th Avenue!
And then there were also lots of fun times hanging out with Emilis, my #Topbitch. We obviously bought obnoxious matching sweatshirts.

Guess where we've been

We also went for lots of nice brunches and dinners. . I was once more haunted by egg whites, this time reincarnated in the shape of a “special omelet”. When. Will. It. Stop.

Shoot me now.
Another time I was lucky to sample one of the famous New York bagels with cream cheese and lox (brined salmon). Biologists out there, did you ever realize that the name of the Cre-Lox system you mindlessly use in the lab every day actually originates from this divine food item? (CREam cheese LOX, get it?). I know. I was blown away, too. Finally, during one of our many tipsy evenings (Blackberry Pimms. Yes), Emilis explained to me that a man’s pee splits into two streams after ejaculation. Which brings me to an important final point. Yes America is very bizarre and I love sharing my discoveries with you. Yes there are nature and cities but I cross the Atlantic because the USA are home to the wonderful person that is my #Topbitch Emilis. Thanks for existing. And before I get to cringy I will leave you with this magical situation.