Field of Science

Jumping DNA

Here's a bit of random information while I wait for my agar to melt...

Bacteria have a remarkable genome plasticity. They are able to mop up spare DNA in the environment, take pieces from circling bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria for the uninitiated) and exchange parts of their genome with bacteria from another species. The species boundary can be very wide as well, the bacterial equivalent of a mouse nicking bits of DNA from an elephant and incorporating it into it's genome.

In order to jump from one genome to the other (bacteriophage and other viruses) the DNA must be flanked by so called 'transposable elements' usually shortened to 'transposons' because molecular biologists are lazy when it comes to saying unnecessary words. (also, I suspect because 'transposons' sounds more scifi and scientists have a distressing tendency to be geeky like that). These transposons code for enzymes that cut the DNA out and paste it elsewhere, essentially allowing it to jump around between various genomes, being expressed and replicated in different bacteria.

ooop, there goes the sodding microwave. We have a new one after the old one stopped working (about three weeks after I entered the lab. PURE COINCIDENCE) and this one hits a pitch which is just slightly higher than the comfort level.

Incidentally, does anyone know how to do those fancy 'cut' things in blogs? Like when there's a blue underlined 'read more' label which whisks you away to the rest of the blog post. I'd really like to do that but I don't know how...

Antibiotic resistance

So, in the interest of actually doing something about the John Rose Essay (as I haven't done anything yet). I thought I'd take a quick look to try and determine what information was generally out there about antibiotics. First stop wikipedia:
It's not bad. They spend a lot less time on the mechanisms than I'd like too, and far more time listing the main Bad Guys of the resistance world. There's also a lot more they could put under 'applications', but I can't write too much about that because that's what I'm researching at the moment :)

Next stop, the website of the department of health. They are currently running a new 'awareness campaign' (who knew that?) to try and discourage people from using antibiotics when they don't need to, i.e for colds and things. They had a previous campaign featuring a little talking drug which unsurprisingly seems to have petered out. You can download the leaflet here, but I wouldn't get too excited. It very closely resembles old WW2 posters, the kind telling you to eat more carrots or put up blackout curtains.

The current campaign seems to involve brightly coloured posters with simple messages on the front such as "Unfortunately, no amount of antibiotics will get rid of your cold". Less...snappy than a little talking drug shouting 'don't wear me out!' but a lot more adult somehow.

The Health Protection Agency's website I am a lot less impressed with. It's And doesn't actually have very much written about what is quite an important topic. It does have a 'recent updates' thingy but this is pretty much the entirety of what it says about antibiotic resistance:

"Antimicrobial resistance describes the ability of a micro-organism to resist the action of antimicrobial drugs. This is important as it can make the treatment of infections more difficult and increase hospital costs. Undertaking laboratory testing of organisms causing infections can play a role in deciding the most effective treatment options."

wtf is with that last sentence?

So, having taken a brief look at the competition (I have to go pour 72 plates now!) I think I'll concentrate mainly on mechanisms with my essay. How antibiotic resistance arises, with probably a brief once-over of why somewhere near the conclusion.

hehe I have an Epic experiment planned. Hence the 72 plates.

Random thoughts

When I was young I used to keep a diary. Or a journal, whatever. I used to write in it most nights, usually about twice a week. I think I kept it up for a while, with some sort of wistful idea that spacemen, or future generations of humans, would some day find it and use it for scientific purposes, and in doing so make my life slightly more useful.

And in the manner of most people who write journals when they're younger I took a look at them over the holiday last winter and collapsed into a fit of laughter and the rather embarrassing hope that aliens or future generations wouldn't find it, or if they did would decently burnt it very quickly. I read through, fascinated at the fact that I'd spent so many evenings carefully and methodically writing down the exact same thoughts night after night.

Each day went something like this:
  • Went to school today
  • Came back and did some work
  • I'm not working hard enough!
  • I need good results!
  • I don't really know if anyone likes me
  • An amazing new book/film/lord-of-the-rings-associated-product just came out!
  • I have so many story ideas in my head and no time to write them all...
Most of it was the fairly standard teenage mindset preoccupied with death, sex and the occasional foray into religion. At one point I even made up my own religion because I wanted to Believe in something but didn't like any of the mainstream ones. And inordinate amount of time was spent worrying about biology IGCSE's and (yes I did keep it up that long) A-levels.

All fairly standard, all fairly normal. Only one thing, in fact, was scary.

These are still the same sort of thoughts I'm thinking now.

Although with slightly less emphasis on Lord of the Rings.

It's scary and it's spooky just how little my internal monologue seems to have changed. There's less of the death and sex, true, and slightly more of the I'm-not-working-hard-enough but overall my deep internal monologue seems to have survived the experience of growing-up relatively unscathed. Deep down, I am the same sad nerdy little person I always was :(

On the plus side though I am working with tiny little plates! Petri-dishes five centimeters across. They look very small especially next to the giant petri-dishes which are 14 centimeters diameter and therefore awesome.