Sunday, January 30, 2011

Your body is constant change. Everything changes, nothing remains without change.

Everything changes, nothing remains without change; says Buddha

The only thing that never changes is change. Only change is constant, otherwise everything is changing; says Osho.

Change is necessary for existence,  and people have realized this in various ways through the ages. The essence of most ancient myths describes the constant death and rebirth that takes place in every level of existence.
Scientists today can show that is true on the physiological level, molecular level, chemical level and physical level etc and this posting will focus on the physiological level. I plan to extend the parallells of science and "conciousness techniques", and write about constant change on the other levels as well.

You might have heard people say that the body is new every seventh year. This is an approximation of the truth. Cells die and are being replaced at every moment in your body, but different organs are reconstituted on the cellular level at different speed. When I realized this, I also realized that my mediation teachers were absolutely right when they said “experience the body as if it was for the first time”. Because it is for the first time you experience this body with this composition of chemicals, virions, bacterias and cells that builds up you contemporary body.
When you eat, the food is meshed up and then passed through the intestine in order for the body to soak up nutrition and minerals/chemicals. The inside of the intestine consist of hair-like structures that are called lumina, the depths between the hairs are referred to as crypts or even the crypt of the Lieberkuhn. These hair structures are covered by an epithelial cell layer.
So why am I mentioning this?

This image is from a histology book and shows the hairlike structures and the crypts from the inside of the intestine. the pinkish outer layer are the epithelial cells.

This is the best studied area in the body when it comes to rapid and continuous renewal of cells i.e. physiological change. Stem cells reside in the bottom of these crypts, making the depths the birth place of the new cells, thus driving this renewal.  
What is a stem cell? That question requires a whole book. But as a theory; a stem cell is a so called pluripotent cell, it has the capacity and the potential to turn into any type of cell. Classical example; the first cells that appear after the fusion between the sperm and the egg. If you take away one of these cells, they can later be inserted into  a womb and develop into an indivudal. This is the science behind in vitro fertilization. Another type of stem cells remain   within every organ and is responsible for renewing the tissues. A third type is the so called cancer stem cells.

The stem cell in this case is organ specific, it resides within the tissue it is suppose to reconstitue. It is the mother cell,  she divides into daughter cells that are just a bit more specified than herself. These daughter can then give rise to various groups of cells. For example, one daughter cell divides and differentiate into epithelial cells, as part of the constant renewal of the epithelial cell layer that cover the intestine. The cells are pushed upward from the crypt along the hairs by the dividing cells. The cells on the top of the hairs die, let go and are replaced. The journey of a cell from the bottom of the crypt to the top takes approximately 3 weeks.
If the balance between death and birth, i.e. the constant change is somehow disrupted, one might develop colon cancer.

For a more in depth description of this intricate change and how it is biological controlled please have a look at; m and
for good research by Bjernes and his coworkers.

Despite what we might think, we are never experiencing the same body. Our bodies are in constant change. This include the brain, the physiology that somehow keeps our ideas and our persona. We tend to think that this part is static but it is also in constant change. I will go deeper into this in a later posting. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stare into the distance and see the past; new galaxy discovered

How far away can the human eye reach? How far away can we see with the help of technology? And can we see back in time and into the future? Our universe is packed with objects that are emitting energy, radiation, in various wavelengths. Radiation is also released at cosmic events. The most famous  cosmic event is the big bang, the theory that everything in this universe originated from one small singular point that then expanded. There is an echo of radiation in space from this event that scientists can analyze. With the help of technology, not only can our minds pierce into the depths of space, we can also look back in time. 
Humans have always studied the lightbodies above us, mirroring ourselves in starconstellations and giving them power over our destinies. We always wanted to look even further, building various solutions as telescopes. The Mama of all telescopes is called Hubble. It recently took a photo of a galaxy that lies 13.2 billion light years away. (They gave it an extremely unsexy and boring name, seriously!) This is not only a measure of distance, but a measure of historic events. The term lightyears is the distance that light travels during a year. We are looking into the past.
Because the object's light took this long to reach Earth, it takes us back to when the universe was approximately 480 million years old. In universal time, that is childhood. The new find reveals that galaxies were forming and growing quite fast at this very early time in the universe.
How do did the astronomers analyze the light? In this case the light has travelled so long that it has so called “redshitfed”, the light waves have been stretched. In order to estimate the nature of the light and appreciate the distance to the galaxy the scientist needed to look through different filters..
The question is of course, if technology strech the limits evenmore, will we see more galaxies even more remotely located or not? Will we look back into a time where the universe was a mere toddler. Was the emergence of galaxies a very early event? The hubble successor will show us. 
What can we learn from looking into the stars and back through the light years in this way?
The co-author Marijn Franx of Leiden Observatory stresses, “if looking back to a cosmic age of 500 million years reveals just one candidate galaxy in the Hubble image, and if even that one turns out to be something else, it really means galaxies were extremely rare during that early epoch. "In fact," says Franx, "it would only strengthen our conclusion that we're looking back to a time when the very first galaxies were assembled."
No matter what the new telescope will show us, we can all look back in time. We just have to catch a glimpse of a star. The night sky is a glittering echo of ancient events, swirling over our heads the history of this universe are shedding lights on our paths.

From the article by Bouwen et al for the photographer nerds “The new Hubble Ultra Deep Field (UDF) image was obtained by combining near-infrared pictures made by the Wide Field Camera 3 (installed in May 2009) and optical photos made by Hubble's older Advanced Camera for Surveys. "With 40% more sensitivity compared to earlier exposures, we were able to push to fainter and more distant sources,"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It is not a parody, it is a documetary

They say it is a Lady Gaga parody, but really this is what my life looked like as a phd student...;D

plug into a tree for some electricity?.

Nature is the source everything we need, metals, raw material, food. Can it also provide us with electricity?

The ideal energy source should be clean from pollution and cheap to produce. Several scientists have turned to nature to find inspiration and the tools necessary to create such an alternative. Some have tried to use the photosynthesis to create electricity from sunlight.

Photosynthesis is the reaction where sunlight is translated into organic energy and electrons are released. This reaction is depending on chlorophyll, a pigment that catches the sun energy. It is present in plants, algae and cyanobacteria. It takes place in the chloroplasts, small organelles where all the chlorophylls are organized.

A scientific research group at Massachusets institute of technology, MIT, in Boston have developed a way to keep the chloroplasts in a natural configuration. They chose spinach as it is a vegetable that is rich in chlorophyll/have a high number of chloroplasts.

In order to obtain the chloroplasts, you have to mash the leaves into a fine mesh, and the centrifuge it in the presence of certain chemicals. This will produce separated liquid bands in where each liquid phase contain molecules and structure of specific sizes.

The liquid phase that contained molecules of the right size was enclosed inside a soap-like membrane made up of peptides (small proteins consisting of only a few amino acids) that love having water on one side, but hate it on the other. That kept the plant proteins functional and stable in their natural configuration in the power cell for up to three weeks. The battery only works when the sun is up, so it will be some kind of Dracula battery.

 "Nature has been doing this for billion years, we're now just taking baby step to use nature, to follow nature's lead, to convert the sunlight into electricity," the groupleader and professor Zhang says.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

biology, mediation, family constellations, it is all the same...kind of...

Once I was at the lovely Yasuragi Spa to attend a workshop with Caroline Myss. I also tried mediation in a Japanese zen style. The teacher, a very cute feminine man, talked about how meditation has aided him to become “more of who he really was”. “I am a funnel” he said. “I am a funnel of the experiences of my earlier generations, my parents experiences have imprinted me and my view of the world. But what they brought on to me was really their life experiences through their own imprinting from their own parents, who in their turned are affected by their parents…”. On and on it went, and I realized that in one way we can travel back to the monkeys and beyond that. This way of thinking is the basis of a therapeutic form called family constellations that I will try in February –and probably write about here.

In one way, this is true in the sense of biology. We are an accumulation of events that have shaped the DNA molecule, and we are also accumulation of the surviving versions of it.
DNA is the information carrier of life- In one way of looking at it, life has been created to sustain and carry on this molecule. This is the basis of the Selfish Gene, a book that I will probably write about later, I have met it’s author who is famous for his “antireligion” views.

To me it is like we are a melody with various themes in it. The DNA that we are carrying is inherited half from our mother and from our father is one tone. It is the recipe for our biological body. The stuff that builds up our body are in constant exchange with the environment, thus our body is in constant change. The DNA directs where the molecules should be organized and when. It has done so for millions of years, going back to the primordial soup.
DNA is an information arrow that was shot out of the primordial to travel through time, trough the bodies of living things. Thus, in one way, we are also a form that have temporarily risen from the context of life and will fall back into it. If we get children we will be a part of the passing of the arrow in time and space.
So the DNA sequence is one theme of who we are biologically, that connect us with the history of life on this planet and the future ones.

Another theme is known as epigenetics. When Scottish scientists cloned Dolly more than ten years ago, they proved one thing. Every cell in the body contain the same DNA. It has not been changed. In theory, DNA could be altered, deleted etc, in order to create a skin cell and brain cell. They obviously do not look the same or behave in the same way. If you scratch yourself on the nose, you get new skin. You do not get a new nose or a new you. Yet if we take a cell from your nose we get the information to make a whole new version of your body. So why does a skin cell look different to a brain cell if they have the same DNA sequence, and why do I mention this in relation to my Japanese zen mediation teacher’s funnel?

Different cells look and behave different because they are using different genes. Obviously the skin cell does not need to use recipes/coding genes for proteins used in a brain cell and the other way around. The DNA is chemically altered so that the cell will discriminate between the genes it should use and the genes it should not. This is epigenetics.
This is also how the environmental changes in the present alter the use of DNA. It is not static; it is in constant interaction with the surroundings.

But scientists have shown that some epigenetical changes, i.e. altered indications of which genes should be used and should not be used can be inherited through the germ line. This was first indicated in a study that showed that indivudals with an increased risk of diabetes and obesity had grandparents that had survived famine. What you eat might affect your grandchildren.

Thus, epigenetics can be a part of the organic life that travels through time. We are a funnel, we are a part of our earlier generations and later generations will be a part of us. It is a way that were are connected with all life on this planet right now, but also in a timeless sense.
But this is just one way of looking at it, I will write a later posting about how we are constant change, from a view of biology. Like Buddha said, charvatti, all is change and change is connectedness with all. 

Personally I love epigenetics, it is one my favorite areas in molecular biology.

However, I think next posting will be about the moon and her moon, life would never have evolved on this planet. She deserves to be a goddess in old creation myths cause they depict the truth.

Want to know what it feels like to live on Tatooine or in an Arhtur C. Clarke Novel?

According to some Astronomers we might get two suns for a period of time in 2012. The star Betleguese might become a supernova and in the process be so bright that it lights up the night sky.

Finally I will get to know what is like to live on Tatooine-homeplanet of Starwars hero Luke Skywalker. Or what it is like to live in a Arthur C. Clarke book- considering Jupiter turned into a second sun in the book 2010. Once at a "departmen­t pub" at Karolinska Institute we realized that most of the modern art that was distribute­d on campus looked like Monoliths from the films 2001 and 2010. Having realized this, we tried very hard to evolve by standing next to them but I don't think it worked. Perhaps it only works if you are sober?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Gaia hypothesis is also about us.

The Gaia hypothesis is refered to the idea that we are all part of one big organism; this planet. Like all things, this is true depending on how you look at it.

And here is another truth. So are you. Our bodies are planets. There are a myriad of viruses and bacteria living in, on and off your body. Most of them are harmless and therefore we know nothing about them. Scientists have understandably only been interested in describing those can hurt us. Therefore we are blind to what are just there, or even there to "help" us.

Just like earth is filled with life in every ecological niche, so are we. Most interest has been focused on the gut. The instestine is filled with more than a kilo bacteria. In one way of counting, we are more microbial than human, this statement come from analysis of how much microbial genes we have versus the amount of human genes. Gene is the part of DNA that codes for a protein, DNA is like a big book of recipes. This research was conducted by Jeffery Gordon. He has stated “We think that there are 10 times more microbial cells on and in our bodies than there are human cells. That means that we're 90 percent microbial and 10 percent human. There's also an estimated 100 times more microbial genes than the genes in our human genome. So we're really a compendium [and] an amalgamation of human and microbial parts.” Is figures are yet to be proved, but it tickles the imagination, again we are not just what we think that we are.

The microbes in the gut are the good guys. They are a part of our cultural inheritance and they help us digesting food but if there are imbalances there might be some problems. Diseases that might be associated with disrupted microbial flora are; migrains, cancer, anorexia and fungi infections as well as various immunological problems and autoimmune diseases.

Interestingly the gutflora varies according to nations and food cultures, recently it was shown that the gutflora of Japanese people can digest algae (i.e. sushi). The rest of us has yet to evolve alt attract bacteria that can do that

So why not take this planet-ecosystem out for a springwalk?

A spoon of Arsenic and the cancer will be cured?

Thank you Walt Disney for giving me inspiration to the headline.

Lets’s continue the Arsenic theme. Readers of Agatha Christie know arsenic to be a poison that kills. But what is arsenic? And how has it attracted worldwide interest because of its anticancer activity?

Chemically; It is the chemical element As. It has number 33 in the periodic table. Three metalloidal forms of arsenic, each with a different crystal structure and colour, are found free in nature. The name refers to yellow, which is one of colours that natrually occuring arsenic has.

Usage; beauty and poison/insecticide.

In the Victorian era, "white arsenic" trioxide was mixed with vinegar and chalk and eaten by women to improve the complexion, making their skin paler -indicating that they did not work in the fields. Arsenic was also rubbed onto the faces and arms of women to "improve their complexion". Women are thought to have died because of their cosmetic use. And we think plastic surgery and using hemorrhoid cream seems like an extreme idea.

Besides the it’s great addition to the old beauty industry, arsenic is an effective poison. If you want to now how arsenic kills, please look at the previous posting.

Recently it was shown that arsenic specifically kills leukemia cells. As has attracted worldwide interest because it shows substantial anticancer activity in patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). It is cancer of the blood and marrow. There is a constant turnover of cells in these tissues, and somewhere the cells that should end up as a specific granulocyte –a cell that fights infections- stop halfway and accumulate as “nonmature” granulocytes. Like a nursery where the children would never get old and move on to go to school and new children would continue to be accepted.

Arsenic trioxide (As2O3) exerts its therapeutic effect by promoting degradation of an oncogenic protein that drives the growth of APL cells, PML-RAR{alpha} (a fusion protein containing sequences from the PML zinc finger protein and retinoic acid receptor alpha, I will write about these things in a later posting).

Chemical info about Arsenic;

About promyleocytic leukemia;

About the PML protein;

Friday, January 21, 2011

I've got the poison, I've got the remedy.

"The definition of life has just expanded," said one scientist. "If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven't seen yet?" said another scientist.
Big words indeed! In December 2010, a new way of life was discovered. And no, it was not raw food diet, polyamoury, world peace or the return of Jesus.
A gammabacteria from a lake in USA could not only live in the presence of arsenic. It also incorporated it into it’s biological machinery such as DNA. One life-form's poison, another life-form's buildingblock.
In general, life uses a set of different building blocks amongst other; carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur.These are used by all known forms of life on Earth.
Phosphorus is part of the chemical backbone of DNA and RNA, the structures that carry genetic instructions for life, and is considered an essential element for all living cells. Cells also use phosphorus to store and move energy in the cell in the form of adenosine triphosphate. Phospholipids form all cell membranes. Arsenic is chemically similar to phosphorus and poisonous for most life on Earth. Arsenic disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate. But in some, at the moment rare and exotic cases, it can be used instead of phosphor.

If there were rock, and also water

Have you ever wondered where all this water come from? The planet is filled with water, from the oceans that cover 70% of her surface to all life-forms that exist on this planet. Water is a common thread through all life. Life-forms does not necessarily need light or oxygen in order to survive, but no life-form can exist without water molecules. Our bodies does contain approximately 70% of water, just like the planet we have emerged from.

Water played a very important part in the evolution of life, being the major component of the primordial soup. Our reproductive cycle is a remembrance of the hydrolytic period in our own life.

But where did water molecules come from? Cause they were not a part of the planet when it formed? One theory is that the water came from outer space, from meteors with large icebodies that have crashed onto the planet. But how is water created from the beginning?

Scientists have now discovered that water molecules are created in interstellar dust in deep space. Each grain of interstellar dust provides a reactive surface on which wayward hydrogen and oxygen can combine into H2O. Eventually the two elements form an icy coating on the grain, the grains in the cloud condense gravitationally.

Suddenly having a glas of water became much more exciting.