Q:Lets learn about Joe! What did you major in? What job do you have now (or aspire to have in the future)? What made you know you had to be a scientist? ; What was the turning point? If you could discover ANYTHING at all, what would it be and why?
Tumblr note: Instead of me making everything rebloggable, can’t my lovely readers screen cap it or something? Because it’s late and I am lazy right now. You have my permission. Just tag me.
BONUS QUESTION. You didn’t think I’d leave you with 5, did you?
Ok, Joe majored in biochemistry and forgot most of it (because there’s too much math) in order to become a cell and molecular biologist. He is going to be done with his Ph.D. in a few months, like maybe January or February, and then you will have to refer to him as Dr. Joe. Grad school’s not really a job, in the real sense, because he can wear shorts and no real job allows shorts. He has also worked for a biotech company and at a cancer research center, doing his science thing, but they paid too much and he wanted a seven-year pay cut in exchange for a graduate degree..
He knew he wanted to be a scientist because his very first biology class convinced him that the stuff of life was too beautiful and complicated to ever work and he has enjoyed proving himself wrong with every new piece of knowledge he adds to his biology brain. This also applies to the other things he learns. Also also, he wasn’t good enough to play pro soccer and “professional Lego builder” is a tough job to get.
His turning point was good teachers, like everyone else’s turning point. That’s why he devotes so much time to being a good teacher himself, so maybe he can help turn some points for someone in need of a good point turning.
If he could discover anything at all, it would be a diamond mine below his house. If he could discover a second thing it would be the answer to “Why here, why us, and where else?”
He hopes to become a professional Bill Nye and/or Neil deGrasse Tyson when he grows up.
Q:What the hell is the fourth dimension? If it's time, like a lot of people say, I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it.
Tonight’s 5th question! This was fun.
The fourth dimension has lots of meanings, depending on what field you apply it to. I don’t have a complete understanding of any of them, but I do have a couple favorites.
In physics, time is unified into “space” to become “spacetime”. That’s to say that the three dimensions that govern everything we can see, touch, etc. also need a fourth dimension of measure to be meaningful. This is where time comes in. The state of the world yesterday was clearly different than today, right? The state of the universe is just different as we go through time. Entropy, yadda yadda yadda. So we need a dimension of measure and description to prove that then is different than now. If that makes sense. This video may help.
But my favorite idea about the fourth dimension has to do with pure scale, thinking about a universe made of strings. Now, string theory goes far beyond the fourth dimension, into maybe eleven or so, which is just not imaginable. You’ll hurt yourself trying. But maybe we can go one beyond the three. Picture yourself as a tightrope walker, balancing on a line. You can move forward, backward, side-to-side or down (if you fall). That’s your three dimensions of reality. Now imagine a flea is walking along the same tightrope, and bumps into your foot. Fleas have things to do, so he needs to get by. The flea can crawl to the bottom side of the tightrope, and walk around you, exploiting a dimension of reality that doesn’t exist to you because of your scale.
Chew on it. This kind of stuff grows wrinkles in your brain.
Q:Do you think we will ever find a cure for cancer or are scientists better off focusing on preventative awareness?
I could write a book about this, but I don’t have the time or attention span at the moment, so I’ll give you the quick version.
Mots of people people probably don’t want to hear this, but I sit in the camp that believes we will never cure cancer. I feel this way for several reasons:
- There is no such thing as “cancer”. Cancer is really hundreds of individual diseases each with its own individual cause, be it environment or mutation or whatever. Some are due to viral infections, some are due to mutations in cell growth signals, some are due to chromosomes falling apart and re-attaching in ways that creates never-before seen genes. And that’s just three ways it can happen! And those represent hundreds of individual changes in each category! And that’s just cancers we know the cause of!
- Even if we could perfectly deconstruct a single type of cancer, and design a drug to fight it, cancer is living. And therefore constantly evolving. Inside of a tumor, tens or hundreds or thousands of different sub-populations of cells can form, each with their own batch of mutations. What kills 90% may do nothing to the other 10%. When the “genomes” inside a tumor were recently sequenced, they discovered it was like a population unto itself.
- Which leads me to detection. If a tumor isn’t the same on the inside, then it isn’t the same on the outside. Cancer therapies rely on early detection. But if you’re looking for Villain A, Villain B might slip through your tests. And like we just saw, tumors are full of unknown Villains B-Z.
- Many cancers are sporadic. It sucks, but sometimes cancer just pops up out of nowhere. New mutations, new gene combinations, new infections. We can’t predict them, so we can’t cure them.
I know this is super-downer, because everyone wants to think that cancer is curable. It isn’t. But individual cancers will one day be made curable. That’s why we should do what we can for the types we understand, and realize that this is the beginning of a long battle with the foundations of our very biological makeup. Prevention will do more than anything in reducing cancer deaths (Editorial comment: stop tanning and smoking), but continued research will lead us to a point where we can at least cure some cancers.
Don’t let that discourage you, scientists of the future. Let it motivate you!
Q:Hey Joe. Would you consider a photosynthetic snail (Elysia chlorotica) a moving plant? I've been trying to argue my point to my friends (rather jokingly) that's it a plant that moves.
I’m picking this one because I want to be sure everyone has heard about this amazing creature. Elyisa chlorotica is a sea slug-type creature that I will from this point onward refer to as Elyse, so I don’t have to type out that long name.
It has the unique distinction of being able to harness sunlight for energy, but I say it’s not a plant. But that doesn’t mean you necessarily lose any bets with your friends. Here’s why:
Elyse harvests chloroplasts by eating a certain kind of photosynthetic algae, and then sucking out their “green bits” like it’s elbow deep at a crawfish boil. Although it doesn’t have elbows. Anyway, these stolen chloroplasts do their chloroplast thing and provide energy for the snail in lean times.
Cool huh? Here’s where it gets complicated, and cool. Chloroplasts don’t just work all by themselves. They require a bunch of protein helpers in order to support their function, and those are usually provided for in the algae’s genome. Except the algae is on its way out the back end of the snail. So where does the snail get the extra proteins? It looks like it has stolen some of the algae’s genes over time and adopted them into its own genome.
I know. Pretty awesome.
So it’s not totally a plant, but it’s got some plant-like bits to it. Check out more about Elyse here.
Q:Would you mind explaining in simple terms how a baby, child, kid is like a scientist? and how that mindset ought to be preserved?
They dress poorly, drink most of their caloric intake, are forced to wear “personal protective gear” so that they don’t make a mess all over themselves, are prone to hysterics, often refuse to share their toys, speak jibberish and ask a lot of questions.
Young people are like scientists for the simple reason that, like scientists, they are constantly teetering at the edge of the unknown. And like us, sometimes they fall down go boom. Not only are they on the edge of the unknown, they are actively pushing their circle of knowledge outward. Sure, their circle is smaller than mine, or yours, but there’s a pure, unquenchable fire within children to just know why ________ ________s.
Whether its the dark shadows under the bed, the taste of an interesting-looking new vegetable (I hear ranch helps), or wondering all those other things that we have long forgotten are interesting (like why the Sun is hot, or why the sky is blue, or why water is wet) … they just gotta know.
You know what makes them keep asking questions? Getting answers. Getting meaningful answers, answers that provide them with new questions and lead them to new worlds of discovery. Getting answers from places they look up to: us. And when they ask those questions, being told that wondering is “the right thing to do”, and not knowing is called “being human”. And “finding the answer” is the most satisfying thing you can do.
I wrote something about this once, and happiestchemicals made a bookmark out of it. I think it’s worth remembering:
Q:Tell us about your favorite gene or protein!
That’s a tough one. I mean, I have to choose carefully. If I offend, say, my incredibly complex ribosomal proteins, then I could be in a world of hurt. And of course, molecular machines like ATP synthase look like fine works of German engineering, as intricate as a Swiss watch. And what about prions? Those slightly misfolded proteins aren’t just broken, they can bump into healthy proteins and make them misfold too (which is just scary, and creepy, like the Andromeda Strain).
But for my money, on a scale of pure awesomeness, it’s got to go to a protein complex involved in photosynthesis. Photosystem I, to be exact. Why? For the simple, and often overlooked, fact that this is a protein that takes sunlight and turns it into usable energy. I mean, if walked up to someone a thousand years ago and told them that I had invented that, they would lock me up. Except Mother Nature invented it billions of years ago! And, like bazillions of organisms use it!!
Sun -> protein -> energy. The sheer fact that that even works should make it the coolest protein. Flabbergastingly cool. But luckily it also looks cool for bouns points: