Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Central Dogma Cafe

Molecular Biology is vitally important for Modern Biology, but can sometimes seem foreign or complicated to new students and the lay person. At the heart of this study of the inner workings of the cell is the transfer of information from DNA to RNA and finally into Protein, which is responsible for a lion's share of activity in the cell.

I have previously tried to explain the importance of, and relationship between, these three molecules by using an analogy of sheet music being read by a musician and instrument to produce sound. While it is a good analogy, I think I have developed an even better one, that of a recipe being used by a chef to prepare a meal. In lieu of writing out a detailed explanation of this analogy (which I may eventually do), I have posted a short video as the first part of my new video series, Life Science in 6 Minutes. 

As it turns out, I was not the first to use the recipe and cooking analogy in molecular biology. At least one other video, courtsey of Bozeman Science, used this analogy. One of my former colleagues also employed this analogy, quiet well in fact, at her blog It's Like Biology. In the remainder of this article, I share ways in which I have expanded upon this analogy, as well as how others have explained the Central Dogma.

Feel free to share your comments both here or on my youtube page. What is your favorite way to explain concepts in molecular biology, microbiology, and synthetic biology?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Impressions from iGEM 2014 Giant Jamboree

The International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, or iGEM, is an annual event in which teams, mostly comprised of undergraduates, will compete against one another to design and create novel applications in the field of synthetic biology. The atmosphere surrounding the competition and the projects is a refreshing one: they offer enticing visions of how the field of synthetic biology can grow, and how the science can be communicated in an exciting, approachable and often colorful way. Furthermore, the iGEM teams are often highly interdisciplinary, featuring biologists, programmers, mathematics, and even artists (for communication and design).

Below are my impressions from the annual end of the year jamboree in which teams present their work. Last year, iGEM was organized into regional jamborees, with the finalists from each regional group being allowed to participate in the championship jamboree in the Stata Center at MIT. In an earlier post at this blog, you can find my impressions of the 2013 championship jamboree. This year, all teams participated in one giant jamboree, held in the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, MA. This jamboree was very well organized and was a very enjoyable event to attend, a testament to the efforts of the iGEM staff and volunteers. 

Although every team and project is unique, many share similar themes. The jamboree this year was organized into several tracks, such as Energy or Health and Medicine. Within each track (or even across tracks), several teams had similar projects. Some of the more common themes this year included:

  • Modification of Bacillus subtilis to detect and/or eliminate pathogens (plant or human pathogens, usually fungal in nature)
  • Engineering strains of bacteria (typically E. coli) for bioremediation or biofuel production
  • Creation of packing material, patterned paper, and even clothing out of bacterially derived cellulose (or other microbe-derived products)

In the remainder of this post, I discuss some of the iGEM team projects in detail, and some other impressions of the event. Please select 'Read More' to see the rest of this article. I also attended the 'Funders Panel' session. This panel featured leaders of community labs, members of large budget teams, and even a science minister / official for Slovenia and Canada (the former featuring a perspective on funding science and iGEM teams with a limited budget). Even representatives from business and capital investment firms were present.

What was your favorite iGEM team or project this year? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below!

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Return to Blogging: The Year in Review

After a nearly year absence, Just Me and Eubacteria is back! The past year has been a busy one, not only for science but also for this humble author: I have moved from adjunct positions at several institutions to a full-time professor position at Kingsborough Community College, where I teach several courses (including Microbiology in Health and Disease). I am also engaging in starting my own research projects at the College, with a focus towards translation, synthetic biology, and iGEM. On a personal note, I am now engaged and will be married before the end of the year.

All of these changes unfortunately necessitated a break from blogging, from which I am only now settled enough to begin again. To re-open this blog, I have designed its appearance, and for the first post in almost a year, I will review some of the more interesting papers that have been published in synthetic biology and microbiology in 2014.

In the remainder of this post, you can find the citation, link, and summary from a number of selected publications from PubMed Central (PMC) that I found to be particularly interesting. In the coming months, I will provide a more detailed analysis of some of these papers (among others). In addition, you can continue to look forward to articles about synthetic biology, microbiology education. For example, I will soon be posting my impressions of the giant iGEM jamboree this year, which I again attended as a volunteer. 

Here are some of the articles of interest from 2014:

A Rapid and Simple Method for DNA Engineering Using Cycled Ligation Assembly
Roth, T., Milenkovic, L., and Scott, M. (2014) PLoS One 9(9):e107329

Robust and accurate prediction of residue–residue interactions across protein interfaces using evolutionary information
Ovchinnikov, S., Kamisetty, H., Baker, D. (2014) eLife 3: e02030

Programmed Allee effect in bacteria causes a tradeoff between population spread and survival
Smith, R., et al (2014) PNAS 111(5); 1969-1974

Cell-surface receptor control that depends on the size of a synthetic equilateral RNA-protein complex
Fujita, et al (2014) Science Reports 4:6422

See Stay tuned for more great blog posts! I should be posting about once a week, except for a break in mid-December. Select read more to find links and summaries for more interesting articles from 2014! Think of a paper I missed? Feel free to comment below.