Author: Barbara Bailus

The Evolution of Science Teaching

A generation ago, before the Internet (when floppy disks really were floppy), science in middle and high school typically consisted of memorizing lots of rules, names and numbers. In many ways, it was a bit like history class: you learned all the facts, but didn’t question how those “facts” became “facts.” Sometimes experiments were demonstrated to show us these “facts”, but how often were we actually asked to design or analyze the experiments? Instead, these demonstrations were more akin to a magic show: meant to illicit awe, but not always able to produce understanding. This method wasn’t necessarily wrong,...

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Interview with Dr. Jan Hoeijmakers: The impact of DNA damage on neurodegeneration and the effect of nutrition

Research Background Dr. Hoeijmakers comes to us all the way from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the country known for its tulips, windmills, clogs, bicycles and excellent biological research. Dr. Hoeijmakers’ lab is located at Erasmus University and focuses on DNA repair. Dr. Hoeijmakers received his PhD in 1982 for his work on trypanosomes, which are single cell eukaryotes that look like small worms under the microscope, are transmitted by the tse-tse fly, grow as parasites in your blood and cause sleeping sickness in Africa. After completing his PhD, Dr. Hoeijmakers did his postdoctoral studies at Erasmus University with a...

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Interview with Dr. Keith Blackwell: Intra- and Extra-Cellular Mechanisms that Slow Aging

Research Background Dr. Blackwell comes to us from the snowbound Boston area. His lab is located in the Joslin Diabetes Center, which is part of the Harvard Medical School Department of Genetics. Dr. Blackwell received his PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from Colombia University. He has been a professor at Harvard for over twenty-years and has seen major changes occur both technologically and philosophically in the biological research field. The Blackwell lab focuses on research in healthy aging and lifespan by studying the model organism C. elegans, which is a type of worm. The lab specifically focuses on understanding oxidative stress responses and collagen development profiles in relation to lifespan. A simplified way of thinking about how collagen and extracellular matrix relate to lifespan is that as one grows older, the collagen and extracellular matrix slowly breakdown and are not as quickly repaired when injured. This is seen most prominently in cartilage-based injuries. Cartilage is made of collagen and extracellular matrix. A knee injury affecting the cartilage will heal much faster in young individuals than older individuals. Dr. Blackwell’s talk focused on his work in C. elegans and the changes in extracellular matrix controlled by the SKN-1 gene, over the organism’s lifespan. In C. elegans the SKN-1 gene plays a key role in promoting longevity through various pathway regulation including, proteasome maintenance, stress resistance, immunity and lipid metabolism. One...

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Interview With Dr. Karl Lenhard Rudolph: Mechanisms of Aging and Transformation of Stem Cells

Research Background Dr. Rudolph’s comes to us all the way from Jena, Germany. He is currently the Scientific Director of the Leibniz Institute for Age Research at the Fritz Lipman Institute. His research focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying the aging process, especially the aging of stem cells. One of his areas of study is telomeres. Telomeres are the “caps” at the ends of chromosome arms that prevent chromosome degradation during replication. Telomeres are made up of hundreds of DNA nucleotide repeats with the sequence TTAGGG. These caps help protect the loss of vital DNA information by serving as “buffering” sequences whose gradual shortening during chromosome replication has minimal effect. As a person ages, their cells undergo numerous cellular divisions which require chromosome replication. During replication, a small portion of the telomere is lost each time. When a telomere gets too short, a cell typically stops dividing in order to avoid the risk of losing vital gene sequences, which could be detrimental to the health of the organism. Dr. Rudolph’s laboratory studies the role of telomeres in stem cells and mice. Dysfunction of telomeres can have several severe side effects including reduced lifespan, tumor formation, cirrhosis in humans with liver disease, and reduced function of stem cells. From a therapeutic perspective, the Rudolph lab has shown that the deletion of specific DNA damage checkpoints can improve stem cell function,...

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