Guest Post: The military, rogue soldiers and the immune system

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Regulatory T cells have prevented damage to a transplanted skin graft caused by other immune cells as can be seen by the skin being intact (red) as well as the vessels (green). The blue colour stains all the cells present in the skin. © Sim Tung, 2016

“Are there any supplements I can take to help my immune system?” “Will going vegan boost my immune system? Or what about organic food?” These are just some of the questions I get asked when I tell people I am a PhD candidate in immunology.

Those who aren’t yet bored of hearing about my PhD normally ask heavy questions that require technical answers. After all, how do you explain your field of work without throwing in the big fancy words? I myself can barely understand jobs in Finance or IT – cue Chandler Bing failing to explain ‘data-reconfiguration-and-statistical-analysis’ to his Friends for 10 years.  Anyway, in these moments it feels pretty awesome to see someone get excited and curious about science instead of Love Island. Continue reading

Guest Post: Scientists are childish (but in a good way)

child-1244531_1920Children are delighted by living things that most adults think are icky or mundane. Last spring my daughter Lucy, now age 6, found a large earthworm and named it Cinderella. She played with it for hours. Not a week later my son Josiah, 4, caught a big brown toad in our backyard and squealed repeatedly, “He’s adorable!” (Not everyone would pick that adjective, but I agreed.) They fixate on the fish tank at the dentist’s office or our family’s ant farm, taking in every detail and pestering me with a steady stream of questions.

Some of the questions they ask are profound. We were almost to school the other day when Lucy asked, “Is there any number bigger than infinity?” and then, “Is God bigger than infinity?” I paused, breathless with parental joy, before I responded. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Incredible Beauty of Cells

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Cropped from original. Credit: Annie Cavanagh. WellcomeCollection. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

I am an ex-cell biologist. Whilst I was a PhD student, it felt like cells were involved in every aspect of my life. I would grow cells, study cells, read about cells, spin them in centrifuges, look at them down a microscope, and visit them at 2am to take timepoints for particularly gruelling experiments. When I spoke to my relatives, the question ‘How are you?’ was often followed by: ‘How are your cells behaving?’. Continue reading

Guest Post: The world within

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Dividing HeLa cells, LM. Credit: Kevin Mackenzie, University of Aberdeen. (CC BY 4.0)

As a molecular biologist, I spent about spent 20 years in lab-based research. Much of this was working on leprosy, which took me to all kinds of fascinating places, including Ethiopia, India- and almost a decade in Nepal. I now work full time for the Church of Scotland Society, Religion and Technology (SRT) Project (www.srtp.org.uk), which aims to help the church to engage with ethical issues in science. Continue reading

Guest post: Translating (and editing) DNA – Wonder and Wonder

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By Nicolle Rager, National Science Foundation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I remember touring an auto manufacturer several years ago in the United States. The whole factory was a wonder to behold. Tiny parts started on an assembly line that eventually became, at the end of the process, a completed car. Hundreds of workers added parts and pieces to an unfinished vehicle slowly over time until, eventually, it would become a complex functioning vehicle. A wheel in the wrong place or Continue reading

Guest Post: Theory and Experience

B0007641 Insulin
Insulin by Anna Tanczos, Wellcome Images. (CC-by-nc-nd4.0)

3 years ago I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. 5,925 injections later, I find it difficult to describe it in a factual, scientific way. Although the biology is fascinating, Type 1 is so much more than that. It’s the joy of having hot chocolate to treat a medical emergency. It’s the awkwardness of Continue reading

Flies and Robotics: Ordered Irregularity

The organization of Drosophila wing epithelial cells after wing inflation. Iyengar, Balaji (2012). figshare. License <a
The organization of Drosophila wing epithelial cells after wing inflation. Iyengar, Balaji (2012). figshare. License CC-BY

As I child I wondered what would happen if my bones grew at a different speed to my skin? Would the bones pop out or would I have floppy boneless regions? How did everything coordinate? As with most childhood questions, below the surface of the apparently childish simplicity there is a deep scientific question which parents often battle to answer. Continue reading