Spring Cleaning and my (inner) Mask

You know what’s great about spring cleaning? You find a lot of little things you stashed around your house! In my case, it was Halls® wrappers from when I was sick. I had them everywhere! Then it hit me! I know why I kept these wrappers – I wanted to write a blog about it! (I’m a genius when I have the flu.)

The one thing I hate more than cleaning, is being told I’m not sick when I am clearly sick. It brings out my inner Mask.

Mask
[Source]

Halls® has this campaign called “A PEP TALK IN EVERY DROP™” (It’s written just like that on every Halls® wrapper – like they are screaming at you.)

Instead of offering words of comfort – you know “Rest up, you deserve it,” “Take some time for you,” “Go back to sleep,” etc … this is what I read:

“Take charge and mean it.”

“Don’t try harder. Do harder!”

“The show must go on. Or work.”

“Dust off and get up.”

“Be resilient.”

“Elicit a few “wows” today.”

“Get back in there champ!”

“Don’t waste a precious minute.”

“Don’t give up on yourself.”

“Get through it.”

“Fire up those engines!”

“You can do it and you know it.”

“Put your game face on.”

“Let’s hear your battle cry.”

There’s more … I just don’t want to keep writing them all out. Not because I’m lazy. Because I’m getting all worked up again.

I understand the intent of these “pep talks” … but when you are sick, possibly with the flu, for a week fighting fever after fever and wrestling with sleep, the last thing you want to hear is “Get through it.” Or “be resilient.”

 

Dang! I just wanted some homemade vegetable soup, some rest, some tender loving care from my wife, and some quality time with my sister Reychl (who was visiting me, more on that later!)

In-flu-ential In-flu-enza

I have been absent (yet again) due to some prime time influenza. I have no idea how I got it. …well, I kind of do. You see, the flu is a respiratory illness. This means, if someone coughs, sneezes, breathes, spits, talks, etc on or near you (within 6 feet!) you will get the virus. Again, this is because their “germs” (or better yet, their germ droplets) are either breathed in or inhaled by you. Super. Contagious.

I like to think back and try to determine when on earth I was infected. Doesn’t everybody? You will get symptoms 1-4 days after being exposed to the virus. I started coughing on Wednesday, March 19 (that was my only noticeable symptom). This means that I came in contact with some sick person (who may or may not have known they were contagious) Saturday/Sunday through Wednesday. I have no idea who you are, but Thank you!!!

Didn’t see that coming, did you?

First, I want to apologize to everyone I infected. You see, with the flu, you are contagious 1 day before you even notice you have symptoms through 5-7 days after you get sick. I must say that I was at work on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, … and Friday. Although I apologized for this one already, I wanted to say I’m sorry again to my dearest wife. I can’t control covering my coughs at night …. and those pesky germ droplets must have flew up, got dispersed by the ceiling fan, and were inhaled by her. Because just a few days later, she got the flu. Dang!

I went to the doctor’s office on Monday (still contagious, mind you), and I had to wear a mask. I can thank my wonderful sister for capturing photos of me while I was sick.

me_flu
[Me. This was posted on Facebook because my sister “loves me.”]

I was given antibiotics, and 2 inhalers, and basically told to rest. So, I tried. But it’s hard, and I felt rather guilty resting, especially because my sister Reychl drove 12 hours from Michigan to Nebraska to visit me!!

me_flu2
[Proof that I was resting! And more proof that my sister can be so cruel with her Facebook posts!]


Now, back to that previous “thank you”!

Sometimes something as awful as in-flu-enza can be in-flu-ential (you see what I did there?) Sure, I had a fever that never wanted to leave me, and body aches that shook my bones to their core, but my sickness was inspiring! I was wearing myself thin with all of my research and the stress that comes along with a Ph.D. programme, and this flu told me, in it’s own germ droplet kind of way, REST! Take some time out for you!

And that is exactly what I (tried) to do. I stayed home the entire next week (mostly because my sister was in town – that is a post for another time!) I have a cough now and a sore throat, but that is it. The only person I got sick (to my knowledge) was Kristi. Talk about success!

Plus, now I feel rested (in a weird tired and worn out kind of way).

 

 

P.S. Want to know more about influenza virus infections, vaccines, etc? Go on over to the CDC website!
P.P.S. I’m allergic to the flu vaccine, so I can’t get it.
P.P.P.S. This is the first time I ever got the flu. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

Sister date nights – a MUST!

You know what stinks about being busy all day long? I think, and write, so many blog posts in my head. I think I put them on here, but I haven’t! The one thing I hate doing, like really hate, is repeating myself. So, when I realize I didn’t actually write anything down, I get super upset. Because I don’t want to “re-write” it. (There really is no winning.)

Have you ever been so close to someone, despite the physical distance between you? Me too! Gosh, we are so similar! I mean, we are sooooo similar. As similar as my sisters and I used to dress.
us3_kids3
[L to R: Reychl, Amanda, Me – we had matching everything]

us3_kids2
[L to R: Me, Reychl, Amanda – see?? We even have matching toys! And onesies … and haircuts]

This bond has seriously gotten us through life. Sure, we fought and did all of that typical children stuff, but we always knew we could rely on each other. Even when Reychl decided it would be a great time to slap me across the face … after I had all 4 wisdom teeth removed the day before. I mean, if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is!

So, let me introduce you (briefly) to my wonderful sisters! Since Reychl “is older,” I will start with her. (hehehe!  This is an inside joke. Reychl and I convinced Amanda that Reychl was older because her birthday comes before Amanda’s in a calendar year. Amanda believed it.)

Reychl. Pronounced like any other Rachael. In fact, her name is actually spelled Rachael. But, just like Nicole and Nikol are different people (as I mentioned here), so are Rachael and Reychl. If you knew my sister before, let’s say, grade 11, you knew Rachael. Grade 11 she was in transition, and from Grade 12 onwards, she has been Reychl. Reychl is brutally honest, selfless, loyal, courageous, driven, stubborn, and caring. She is filled with wanderlust, and loves to explore. She may hurt your feelings every now and then, but it’s never malicious (if only some people would actually see that). You know she is in pain when she lashes out at you, and that’s when you have to set your feelings aside and just get her to break open and spill the beans. P.S. Reychl is the youngest sister.

reychl
[This is Reychl with her pupster Charlie]

Now there is Amanda. Amanda has always been Amanda. Which is strange, considering she is a Gemini (and Reychl and I are Capricorns.) Amanda is easily embarrassed, loving, kind, selfless, loyal, helpful and caring. She is filled with so much love, like soo much love, she can’t say “No” when someone knocks on her door and basically says ‘take my cat.’ She doesn’t slam the door, she says ‘welcome to the family! Time to find you a new name that ends in an “ee” sound!’ (I mean that! Her beautiful babies are named Rari, Gimee, Tuli, Nolli, Remi … her wife? Stacy! – and I Just slaughtered the spelling of all of her baby’s names! Phooey on me!) P.S. Amanda is the middle sister.

amanda
[This is Amanda at a Linda Eder concert!]

The one thing I forgot to mention, but alluded to earlier, is that both of my sisters live in Michigan, while I live in Nebraska/Florida/somewhere far, far away. We always make time for visits, but sometimes, we just don’t have money for long trips (and the vacation saved up for those trips!) We came up with a solution! (If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate!)

Sister date nights.

They happen once a week, with the respective sister. Reychl and I watch a movie at the same time on Thursdays. We have to be careful because we live in different time zones, but we usually time it pretty well. This way, we can talk about the movie, and laugh, and cry, and it’s all better because we are technically doing the same thing at the same time, just miles and miles apart. The movie brings us closer! We’ve watched Avatar, Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Dallas Buyers Club, The Big Green, The Wolverine, The Heat (sheesh, these have been going on for longer than I thought!)

Amanda and I just started our sister date nights 2 weeks ago because it took us awhile to figure out what we wanted to do. We settled on playing games! Then, Amanda had a brilliant idea involving playing PS3 games against/with each other! Then, Amanda found the most perfect, and annoying, game ever! Portal 2! (Seriously, what would I do without Amanda?!) Basically, we have to work together in order to accomplish some task. We talk on the phone the entire time, because you really need communication, and we try to get our robot selves to not slip and fall in to a pit of acid. We are cute robots.

Portal2
[L to R: Amanda, Nicole]

We don’t let distance define our relationships! We define them, and then we do something about them. That’s how the Milkovic (Milk-oh-vick, seriously, it’s not hard) clan rides!

OW! I feel good

Gosh, I feel like I have been incredibly absent! Hopefully my workload will lighten up a bit from now on, which will allow me to sit down and collect my thought.

For some insight, I was awarded a Molecular Mechanisms of Disease (MMoD) training grant for 2013-2014 (WOOHOO! Go me!!) But with this comes additional responsibilities. Like, a lot of them. I have to attend as many training events as I can muster up the will to go to, I have to teach (as part of a team, with the other MMoD candidates) an undergraduate sophomore-level Biochemistry lecture about critical thinking in science, I have to tutor UNL’s athletes in Biochemistry and Chemistry, and I have to get my thesis project moving.

Did you notice how many times I said “I have to”? I need to change that to “I want to” … unfortunately, right now, I don’t want to do any of those things … except my thesis project (because I want to leave). Mentally, I’m just so gosh darn bogged down. Overwhelmed, even. Overwhelmed, definitely.

If I’m not grading, or teaching, or going to meetings about teaching, then I am fulfilling my other obligations, like attending required departmental seminars, or going to my physical therapy appointments, or rushing off to tutor. (Sheesh, where is the me time??)

But today, I’m feeling good about all of this because my hard work is showing and people are noticing! In fact, they even put this on my departmental home page!

me_awards
[UNL’s Biochemistry homepage]

Did you see what I just did there? Probably not, because you don’t really know what I look like. BUT, I had them use my incoming photo, lol. Oh the youth.

DANG! I just feel so good! I love when hard work is rewarded, and I love it when MY hard work is rewarded! 🙂

Parkinson’s Disease and Mutations in the Protein DJ-1

I always struggle with talking about science, especially to the lay audience. It’s something I actually want to perfect. So, what better than to bring up the research closest to my heart? When I say heart there, I really mean my thesis project. Practically the same thing at this point in time!

Before entering Mark Wilson’s lab at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the lab published a paper called “Structural impact of three parkinsonism-associated missense mutations on human DJ-1” in the journal Biochemistry back in 2008. If you are really curious and want to read the paper in it’s entirety, which I recommend because, quite frankly, it’s a great paper, you can go here.

This paper pretty much sets up my thesis work, in a nutshell. (I really do mean nutshell here. All of my blood, sweat and tears over the past 5-6 years will boil down to a single slide in my boss’s presentations, and eventually maybe even a single bullet point. This is just too sad to focus on, so let’s talk DJ-1.)

When DJ-1, a small conserved protein of 189 amino acids, is absent or genetically mutated thereby making the protein inactive, humans get Parkinsonism. Parkinsonism differs from Parkinson’s disease in semantics only, really. You see, you can’t be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (henceforth called PD) until autopsy. At this stage, they will look in specific regions of your brain for some hallmarks of PD (such as loss of dopaminergic neurons in the region of your midbrain called the Substantia Nigra pars compacta). It always helps to illustrate what this all means in science. So, here are a few very neat pictures.

DJ1
[Source: This is DJ-1! The image in (a) looks like a crazy person staring you down. If you can imagine yourself hitting this person with your palm, and the head rotating away from you, revealing underneath the chin area, that is what you see in (b). If this is too complicated a visual, then think of a 90 degree rotation in to the screen of (a) and you will get (b).]

I work in a lab that visualizes proteins by means of X-ray Crystallography. So, the model representation of the structure I showed above was solved by my lab! Pretty nifty, right?

PD_brain
[Source: I really like this image, and I often show it in my data presentations. Not only does it show you exactly what (small) area of your brain is affected, but it shows you how it’s affected! In a normal brain, you have a dark substantia nigra (the top right picture), and this is because you are producing plenty of dopamine. This pigmentation becomes lesser when you have Parkinson’s disease (the image just below the normal one), and this is what results in loss of motor functions, etc. If you are interested in more information on Parkinson’s disease, feel free to visit these websites: MJF Foundation, National Parkinson Foundation, Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, or the Mayo Clinic, among many other sources.]

Back to this paper!

Several mutations in DJ-1 have been implicated in Parkinsonism in humans. One of these mutations has been extensively studied and is called L166P, meaning in the normal, or wild-type, DJ-1 protein, we see a leucine at position 166 and in the Parkinsonism-associated version of the same protein, this leucine is mutated to a proline. This amino acid can be found in the above DJ-1 structure as a red stick figure in the “smile”. In technical terms, this mutation lies on the dimer interface, and when it’s mutated, it disrupts the ability of DJ-1 to form the dimer, which causes the protein to just unravel. When it’s unraveled, it can’t protect the cells anymore, and you present with Parkinsonism. What this boils down to is this: you don’t want this mutation. It’s bad news.

But what about other lesser studied mutations? How do they cause Parkinsonism? Is it by the same mechanism as L166P? These are great questions, my readers, and I am soo00 glad you asked them! In short, we don’t know yet, and this is my thesis project (so I can’t really spill the beans yet, because it’s not published. But, it’s all very exciting, I assure you!)

This paper really starts looking at some other mutations that are known to cause Parkinsonism, and they are A104T, E163K, and M26I. Again, the first letter in each of these instances is what should be there to have a normal protein, but alas, they are mutated to the second letter in an abnormal protein.

What did this paper find out about these three mutants? First of all, that these mutations all reduce thermal stability of DJ-1 (meaning, it falls apart at lower temperatures), but the structure of each mutant (because that is what my lab does) barely changes at all! This is BIG news because the structure of L166P can’t be figured out by X-ray Crystallography because it’s a jumbled heap of a mess and has no structure to determine. Luckily, other methods (primarily NMR) has illustrated this nicely! So, now we have the normal protein and 3 mutations in that protein, and all 4 of these versions looks nearly identical.

This basically sets up my thesis project, which aims to understand the mechanisms of action of some of these mutations. Basically, I’m trying to figure out why people get Parkinson’s disease. No big deal.

Quarterly Book Review: His Dark Materials trilogy and Master of Ballantrae

I took this quarterly review idea from my friend Rachel (read her blog, about the silver linings of life, here). It’s fitting, as we, along with another blogger named Dawn (read her blog, about encouragement for life, here), run a virtual book club (cleverly named Between the Covers) on Facebook. Feel free to join the fun here!

goldenpmamberspyglass subtle_knife_cover
[You can read more about Philip Pullman’s books here]

For the most part, I really liked this series. It made me wish my youth was a bit more exciting, you know? My childhood was definitely filled with my own adventures: trying to dig a hole to China, playing with the neighborhood kids, singing, laughing. But nothing quite like Lyra’s. I really enjoyed the first book in this series (The Golden Compass), and I liked the second book a little less (The Subtle Knife), and I’m still thinking about how I liked the last one (The Amber Spyglass). I thought the supernatural and scientific elements of the books were fantastic, but when they started funneling in Religion more and more, I started losing interest. Overall, the books are really well written, and a very easy and quick read. I couldn’t put the books down (until that last one, it took me a bit longer).

Themasterofballantreacover
[You can read this classic for free on the Kindle or the Kindle App!]

This is the first book Between the Covers read. This book took me awhile to get started. There is a lot of Scottish slang, and, embarrassingly, quite a few words I did not know. This book is filled with many characters I could not identify with, and the time line was a bit jumpy. Other than all of those, I liked this book. I learned a lot of new words, started picking up the slang, and the book was simpler to read. The people, on the other hand, they were not. The politics of Bellantrae were enough for me for awhile. I hope the next few books are a bit more relate-able.

Science basics that EVERYONE should know

Yesterday, I found myself in the same old rut; perusing Facebook when Lo! and behold, my cousin Crystal posted a video saying “1 in 4 Americans unaware that earth circles sun”. I immediately thought “NO! This can’t be … I must watch this video (and hope it’s not a virus.)” To find out, IT’S TRUE!! Don’t believe me? Watch it here.

Needless to say, today, I find myself inspired. Maybe I’m going to far in to science with my science posts? Maybe, I need to take a step back so everyone is on the same page – and, just in case you get stopped on the street for a science pop quiz, you will know the answer! Plus, trivia night, anyone?

1. All of the planets orbit (revolve around) the sun. (Feel free to watch the video again). Lighter objects always orbit heavier objects. This is why satellites and the moon orbit earth. Do you remember anything about Sir Isaac Newton? It was Newton who realized that the planets must orbit the sun in much the same way an object falls to the earth after we drop it. Basically, the sun’s gravity pulls on all of the planets, causing the planets to orbit it. It is also important to note that the bigger an object is, the larger it’s gravitational pull. It goes without saying that all of you know that the sun is the largest object in our solar system. NASA has some amazing resources for this subject. I should also mention that it takes 1 year for the earth to orbit the sun.
Sun
[Source]

2. There is a difference between a scientific hypothesis, theory and law. And those differences aren’t what the general public seems to think they are. Let’s start at the beginning. A hypothesis is an educated guess that is based on observations. You may remember making “If … then …” statements back in middle school. If not, they kind of sound like this: If I punch my little brother, then he will cry. This statement has to be testable. In our example, I could walk up to my little brother and give him a punch. Then, I will observe the aftermath. Does he cry? What’s wonderful about a hypothesis is, you could be wrong, BUT you will get a scientific answer. In our case, my brother could cry, he could do nothing, or he might yell for mom. Our observations can change our hypothesis, to make it better, so we can get better answers. To hammer home this idea, I might be able to punch my brother 10 times with him crying each time. On the 11th try, he might punch me back!  A theory summarizes a group of hypotheses made by lots of people. It’s important to re-state that these hypotheses have undergone a lot of testing and re-testing by a lot of scientists. A theory is accepted as fact as long as there is no evidence that disputes it. Once this evidence arises, the theory is not thrown out, but changed to accommodate the new observation. Basically, a theory explains why and how something happens. For example, when we talk about gravity, we use Einstein’s theory of general relativity. A law explains things, but does not describe them and it does this by generalizing a body of observations from many hypotheses that have been tested and re-tested by many scientists. A great way to distinguish a law from a theory is to see which one answers why something happens. For example, Sir Isaac Newton had a Law of Gravity. This law could predict that an object would fall, but it couldn’t tell us why it fell. For a list of 10 laws and theories everyone should at least be acquainted with, check out this article here.

3. Evolution. I was debating whether or not I should include this … as I really don’t enjoy talking about controversial things. However, everyone should at least know about it, whether you decide to believe in it or not. If you want to read more about all the intricacies of Evolution, check out Darwin’s Origin of Species (it’s even free for the Kindle App!) Many of you have heard of, and perhaps even said, the phrase “survival of the fittest!” – that’s evolution you are talking about! There are many genetic changes that can be inherited, and these small changes, over the course of time, add up to larger changes. This is why every new generation of people differs slightly from the one before it. Many of these changes have negative or neutral effects, but sometimes, there are positive ones – hence, survival of the fittest. The rate of evolution varies a lot and it depends on the organism and environment. Recently, Bill Nye (the science guy!) and Ken Ham debated evolution and creationism (see the entire debate here). When it came down to evolution and creationism, both of them said the same thing, just using different words. Ken Ham said Noah saved 7000 couples on his little arc, and because of that, we have all the ones we have today. I found the below picture to really hammer home the math. The picture’s link will take you to someone else’s perspective on the debate.
evolution
[Source]

4. The sky is blue because of scattering. It’s not blue because it’s a reflection of the ocean waters (like what I believed when I was in elementary school). Let’s think about this. We have a sun, that we orbit around (see #1 above), and in order for that sun’s rays to reach earth, the rays have to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere. This atmosphere includes things like gas and particles that cause the sunlight to bounce (or scatter) off of them in many directions, and this sunlight is actually a lot of different colours. Have you ever seen a light flashing on a prism or maybe Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the moon album cover? All of the colours in sunlight have different wavelengths, with blue being very short. So, blue light can make it’s way through the “filter” (i.e. atmosphere) easier than colours with larger wavelengths, and, as a result, the blue light is scattered very widely. This is why the sky is blue when the sun is at the highest point in the sky, in relation to where you are standing. So, how do we explain the beauty of sunsets and sunrises? At these points, the sun is not above where you are standing, it’s much farther away. The sunlight has to cross a great distance to reach you, and this distance allows the blue colour to, essentially, fade away, allowing us to see the reds and oranges and yellows of the light!
prism
[Source]

I think we will stick with these four things for now. If you are curious about anything, feel free to post your questions in the comments section below. Remember, we aren’t debating anything here (there are other blogs and forums for that).

Plot Twists: Life Twists

When you think about a good book, there are usually plot twists. You know, the ones even a seasoned reader didn’t see coming. I especially like the ones I thought I saw coming, but then the author kicked it up a notch and made it extra twisty! That’s when I can’t put a good book down and I stay up for hours and hours (and hours, and more hours.)

But … have you ever thought how your favourite (or not so favourite) books would be forever changed if only one little thing was different? Like, if you were a time traveler, and you went back and changed something – and created a Butterfly Effect – and saw how the book changed.

For example: What if Voldemort was Harry’s uncle, or father?! Harry would be even more conflicted and he would have negative influences. Would he still be a Gryffindor? Or better yet, what if the chosen one was Neville, the other option? 

Neville
[Source]

What if The Walking Dead took place in the Northern states? We all see how the zombies smell terribly due to the rotting flesh, and we see that everyone seems to forget that they could once use that to their advantage. Would the winter slow the zombie down? Would it prevent their decay? How would the survivors’ health be affected by drastically changing weather patterns? It’s all a mystery.

Zombie
[Not to mention, this White Walker (GoT) is terrifying!!]

In the Hunger Games (since I am watching it right now with my sister Reychl), what if Prim went on to the games because Katniss never volunteered? Over the course of the trilogy, we see how much Prim grows up, so would that have happened? Or would the trilogy have died with Prim in the first games? OR, what if the tributes were actually fighting for food (as the name of the games implies)? How much more bloody and competitive would it be if it were up to that tribute to win food for their District for the next year? Or, what if Gale went to the games with Katniss?

Prim
[Oh Prim, you are so young!]

I kind of take it one step further and day dream about plot twists in my life. Not the typical ones like a death in the family, or a rejection letter – but major ones. Like zombie apocalypses with hunger games (to keep on track). I mean, if I were in each of these stories, I would have done things a bit differently. Would my knowledge have helped me? We all go through life learning a little bit of everything – areas of triangles, how to do our taxes, how to fight with medieval weaponry, how to cook, all of that science, you know, everything we could have possibly ever needed to save our lives one day.

What if I were Hermione Granger? What if I were the Goblin King?

What if the under-represented were actually represented on television in a realistic way? Not all GLBT are drug addicts with impeccable “Gaydar” and are highly fancied by everyone in the city. Not all poor people live in ghettos, are in gangs, are steal.

Man … now I’m in a weird mood.

I leave you with this adorable piglet!

pig1 pig2
[Source]

Sunday Living: Meet the kids!

Sometimes, I struggle with what to write about. Like, what on earth is too much information and what on earth is interesting enough. I am, by far, so un-interesting.

But, since I already introduced you all to my beautiful wife (here), I figured I should introduce you to our babies! We have 4 beautiful fur babies: 3 girls and 1 boy.

Boys first! This is my dapper young man, Arnold. He was named after the Arnold. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kristi and I found him the same day we took Wrolea (you will meet her soon enough) to get her very first hair cut. We saw this little kitten get hit by a car, roll away, and hide in a hole in the median. We rushed in our car, turned around so fast, and hopped out of the car so quickly. Kristi searched the side of the road, just in case the little fellow crossed it while we parked the car. I ran into the road, found the little kitty looking up at me, grabbed him and held him to my chest. He has forever since been a boob kitty.
Arnold

He’6 about 6.5-7 years old now. It must be the year of mischief. He is constantly getting in to stuff these days and always tries to convince us that he did not do it.

image(6)
Like here. Believe it or not, he did not know there were flowers in the house. … and he swears, it was not him that ate them all.

Girls next. We have Wrolea (pronounced Rolly), Adia, and Daisy.

I have to talk about Wrolea next. She is my heart and soul. I was so lonely when I moved to Florida, and I just wanted someone to bond with. I looked all over Craigslist for a dog. I was hoping to find a male miniature dachshund but I found her instead. She was one dog of two litters and they were all in pretty bad shape. I picked her up, she was shy, but then she did the best thing ever. She fell asleep in my arms, and then slowly fell backward to reveal her chubby belly. I knew right then and there, she was mine. She was covered in fleas. I’m talking about every inch of her. They were either crawling around, or imbedded into her skin feeding. I took her to the vet and they said she was momments away from needing a blood transfusion! They gave her a portion of a pill (because she was just 6 weeks old) and when all the fleas died, I had to go to work. I bathed her, and then for 8 straight hours, I pulled the fleas out of her skin one-by-one with tweezers: out of every crease in her ears, toes, and all over the open skin.  A few days later when she was starting to recover from the blood loss, she was so lively. She started doing puppy things – like chewing up all of my shoes, peeing all over the floors, and pouncing on me in the middle of the night. Still, to this day, her belly skin is blackened from the scars I had to leave behind. She is my Wrolea, and she is 7 years old.
image(2)
Wrolea is the lab-chow mix in the back.

Since, I inadvertently introduced you to the other dog, I should just carry on. Her name is Daisy. She kind of wiggled her way into our little family very slowly. When she was just a puppy, we babysat her a few times. Then, the family that had her asked us if we wanted to keep her because Daisy (who went by Daliah at the time, but that was just too hard for me to say.) Daisy was just too energetic for this family, and their other animals just didn’t appreciate being pounced on all the time. So, we took her in, and she managed to wiggle her way into the lives of the other babies too!

Seriously, who could say no to this face?
image(1) image
She is a cuddler, that Daisy! Daisy is about 3 years old.

This leaves the last, and most regal, to the end. Meet Queen Adia. Her name isn’t Queen Adia, it’s a title she demands. Adia rules the household, and I firmly believe nothing happens without her consent. Kristi came in to our relationship with Adia (and the late Moe, a basset hound.) Adia loves to scratch all of the wood working in the house, and she loves to chase Daisy. Every other time of the day, you can find her looking very pretty and put together.

image(5) image(4)
Our lovely Adia. She is about 10 or 11 years old.

There you have it. My family! As I write this, they are all sleeping next to me. What a perfect Sunday!

The first ever plague

Time to talk about one of my favourite things: Infectious diseases. Seriously, I got in to science because I fell in love with the movie Outbreak! I know you would probably have never guessed, considering I’ve been studying neurodegenerative diseases for the past 8 years (Sheesh, am I really that old?), but I do really love them. Well … infectious diseases, serial killers, and mother nature. What can I say? I’m obsessed with destruction.

A new article was just published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal (you can sign up for a free account and gain access to all of their articles here) called “Yersinia pestis and the Plague of Justinian 541–543 AD: a genomic analysis.” This article is so recent, that it’s not actually in print yet, but you can find it in the “Online first” section. There is also a Comment made on this same article (kind of like a short ~1 page synopsis) that you can read too.

Lancet
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Anyway – on to the amazing things found in this article!

To begin, it is important to mention that there have been at least three human plagues: The Justinian Plague (6-8th century), Black Death (14-17th century) and the Third plague (19-20th century). I guess we ran out of cool names for plagues – but because they found that it came from the Yunnan Province of China, they could have called it the Yunnan Plague. Anyway, if you want to know more about plagues in general, visit the CDC and read away! This current journal article is going to focus on the Justinian Plague because of a few reasons: it’s not clear where it originated, the link between the first plague and the other two is not clear, it’s not clear whether or not the second two plagues evolved from the first one (did the plague get stronger or weaker over time?), and it’s not clear whether or not all of the plagues were just the same disease but continuously mutated (like our flu viruses) or brand new versions.

These researchers came upon a medieval burial site that contained many bodies (indicative of people dying from an outbreak) and when they radiocarbon dated the goods in the burial site, they found they dated back 1500 years – during the Justinian Plague! The coolest part is this: the researchers pulled some teeth and they still had blood in them and they were subjected to DNA sequencing! How amazing is that? Teeth, bones AND DNA surviving 1500 years?!

They found that the first pandemic was spread by fleas that bit some rats and, like the other plagues, they originated in China! They actually followed the Silk Road Trade Route!

Silk_Road
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Another finding? The first pandemic is a unique strain passed from rodents in to humans. It is not like the other Plague strains!