Whew. I’ve been filming videos for It’s Okay To Be Smart all day today, and I’m tired, so my look at episode 3 of Frankenstein MD (“Anesthetics and Paralytics”) will have to wait until tomorrow! It’s the first time we get to meet Eli and Rory, who are adorbz. Being friends with Victoria seems like a really dangerous prospect.
It seems like no matter how many blood drives we have, hospitals never have enough blood to go around. To solve this problem, scientists have been trying to create synthetic blood for decades. And since we keep on having blood drives, you can probably guess that scientists still haven’t succeeded. But at least we get cookies when they stick us, eh?
In episode 2 of Frankenstein MD, Victoria introduces some of the basic principles behind the engineering of synthetic blood products. Much like we’ve done to create everything from insulin to diesel fuel, scientists have employed recombinant DNA technology to create human hemoglobin within E. coli bacteria, the microscopic workhorses of biotechnology.
I gotta say, I love how casually we tend to discuss recombinant DNA these days, as if it’s as simple as making toast. While it’s a fairly routine molecular biology procedure, it’s important to remember that we are cutting and splicing the DNA fabric of life like biological wizards, and that’s amazing.
First, the gene for hemoglobin is inserted into the bacterial cell. Or really, it’s genes, plural, since human hemoglobin is a tetramer, a macromolecule made up of two pairs of related, but slightly different globin molecules. The bacteria make oodles of human protein, we pop ‘em open, purify it, and reconstitute the oxygen-carrying portion of human blood. Simple, right?
Problem is, bacteria process their proteins slightly differently than we do, modifying them with little molecular tags that our bodies recognize as foreign. Our immune system mounts a response, which can be deadly. SO far recombinant blood substitutes are still pretty toxic (although work continues).
Some scientists are trying to get around our body’s tendency to reject recombinant blood by developing completely synthetic oxygen carrier molecules that don’t need to be biologically synthesized by bacteria. This science is promising, and word on the science street is that it is ready to be put in real patients!
Beyond all that sciencey mumbo-jumbo, this episode sees Victoria come face-to-face with the challenges of being a female scientist, whether it’s having to try just that little bit harder to get noticed or treated fairly by male scientists and administrators (like Dr. Krempe), or carrying the burden of family needs and professional desires, a choice that no female scientists should have to make. It seems like Dr. Waldman is on her side, and treats her with honest respect, though.
I have a feeling it’s not the last time Victoria will be facing these issues…
Victoria’s show is designed to be sort of a video lab notebook, part educational, part experimental. YouTube already has some pretty great science shows (*cough*cough*) but I’m happy to welcome Victoria to the fold. And Iggy too, I guess.
In this episode, in addition to meeting the main characters and hearing some inspiring words about the importance of failure in the scientific method, we learn a bit about cardiac electrophysiology, those nerve impulses that control our heartbeat.
I find that GIF hypnotic. The human heart has its own pacemakers built in. One is known as the sinoatrial (SA) node, the other as the atrioventricular node (AV). These are the upper and lower red dots above, respectively.
Cardiac cells are interesting because they are sort of like nerves and muscle cells combined, they can do work, but they can also propagate electrical impulses (although we should be clear, they are definitely classified as muscle cells).
Cells of the SA node sort of “leak” charge at a constant rate, which makes them fire (or send an electrical impulse) at that same constant rate. The result is a nice rhythmic heartbeat, controlled by its own cells.
When a heartbeat is initiated by a stray impulse at the bottom (ventricular) region of the heart, that’s what is known as a premature ventricular contraction, or PVC. That’s what happens to Iggy in this episode.
Single, isolated PVCs are pretty harmless, and most of us probably get them from time to time without even noticing. Leave it to Iggy to kill himself by trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.
At least Victoria was there to shock him back to life! Wonder if she’ll do that again at some point…?
I’m so excited for today’s premiere of Frankenstein MD that I think I’m going to post each of the first three episodes (which all premiered concurrently) in a row. Maybe with some science-y perspectives, since I am the science advisor for the show.
So that’s about to happen.
Debuting my new series with three new experiments.
Link to video - http://pbly.co/FMDep1
Link to playlist - to.pbs.org/frankensteinmd
Website - http://frankensteinMD.com
Twitter - https://twitter.com/VFrankMD
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/FrankensteinMD
Instagram - http://instagram.com/FrankensteinMD
Today’s the day! IT’S ALIVE!!
Meet Victoria :)
I think only like 2 people have found the second Doctor Who reference in this week’s It’s Okay To Be Smart video. Don’t let me down, Tumblr.
If you said “from the sky,” then congratulations! You are hilarious. But it’s a lot more interesting than that. The pungent perfume that accompanies rainstorms carries special chemical signatures, some born from lightning, some from deep within the soil.
And beyond just being pleasant and nostalgic, those smells are actually useful to some living things, such as telling plants when it’s time to grow, guiding camels across the desert, and even signaling some fish when it’s time to get “romantic”.
Take a big whiff, because there’s a science storm a-comin’!
Science Needs Women:
For Women in Science; the L’Oreal Foundation
I’m sharing this video on any platform I can because when I first found it last week it had something like 1,400 views, but it’s the most beautifully produced and succinctly narrated video addressing some of the most complicated issues facing women in STE(A)M fields I’ve found yet.
I’m sharing this for every time I’m called a “feminazi.”
…for every time I’m told that my concerns aren’t valid, our that our issues are imagined.
…for every time I hear “women just don’t like science,” or worse - “women just aren’t good at science.”
…for every time we’re told that we can have a family or a career, but not both - and for every time we feel like we have to decide between the two.
…and because we need more women mentors in these fields to stand up for issues that are not “women’s issues” - these are people issues that affect our collective society as a whole.
The women in this video are my heroes and they should be your heroes, too.
Science needs women.