Why are some people more vulnerable to flu than others? Sarah Smith, a PhD student at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, describes one reason why in her shortlisted article for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012.
You’re 100 feet below sea level, crammed onto a London tube full of commuters, all breathing in the same stale air. The tickle in your nose is becoming too hard to ignore, but where’s a tissue when you need it? Aaaachhhhhhooo! Oops. You just sent 20,000 salivary droplets hurtling across the carriage. If you’re infected with influenza there could be thousands of viral particles in that sneeze. If everyone in your carriage inhaled a few of these particles, the outcome could be dramatically different for each person. Why? That is where my research matters.
After a virus infects a person, the severity of the disease that develops is influenced by both the virus and human genes. A gene is a sequence of DNA nucleotides (A, T, G or C) that provides the instructions for a cell or virus to assemble a protein, the bricks and mortar of the cell. Read more
Greg Weir, a PhD student at the MRC Functional Genomics Unit, explains why he’s turning to stem cells to investigate migraine in his shortlisted article for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012.
What does migraine mean to you? Maybe it is only a mild inconvenience in your life, making a friend cancel on dinner or extra work for you as a colleague calls in sick … again. Or perhaps it means more to you. Perhaps it means hallucinatory visions followed by hours of pain that leave you bedridden and seeking sanctuary in the darkness. For me, it means something else as well. For me it means something frustrating, something exciting and a totally absorbing challenge. I’m a PhD student researching the causes of migraine.
The first thing I must do is convince you that migraine is worthy of research. No doubt this will be an easy task when it comes to the 18% of women and 6% of men who are themselves “migraineurs.” However, for those who do not suffer sporadic, intense headaches that can last several days, a hard financial fact might do the job. In theUSAalone migraine costs around $14 billion annually in direct medical costs and indirectly through lost work. Read more
In her shortlisted article for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012, Holly Callaghan, a PhD student at Imperial College London, explains why learning about what goes wrong in the genetic ‘spell checkers’ of cells can help to develop anti-cancer treatments.
Spelling mistakes — we all make them. Usually a result of carelessness, a ‘g’ might become a ‘c’, an ‘a’ might become a ‘t’. If you’re writing a letter maybe you’ll correct or cross out the offending word, or even scrunch up your paper, throw it away, and start again.
Our cells have a remarkably similar distaste for misspellings. The genetic alphabet is made up of only four letters: A, T, G and C. Cells must diligently copy their DNA, all six billion letters of it, in a precise order so that they can replicate. Some cells, such as skin cells, replicate every half hour, while others, for example brain cells, divide once then never again. Think for a moment about your colon. The surface of this impressive 7.5 metre long digestive organ completely renews every four days — that’s a lot of dividing cells! Read more