Monday, November 17, 2003

Only Sadomasochists Go to Graduate School

What was I thinking when I decided to get a Ph.D. in Biophysics? Apparently, I had nothing better to do with my spare time. The really frustrating thing is that my graduating depends on whether or not I can stick a microscopic piece of glass onto the surface of a fly eye cell and measure current going through the cell. This involves sitting in a cramped, dark room all day long and much cursing (or pseudocursing in my case). First you rip the head off of unsuspecting young flies, then you rip the eyes off, and rip the cells apart. Yes, lots of violent ripping and/or tearing. Fun.

Of course my two favorite questions about grad school are: so when are you graduating (argh!) and so how is your work relevant to anything. ? Look, I'm getting out this year with or without my mentor's approval, and it's not relevant to anything, ok?! It might be relevant if you are a fruit fly geek but other than that, it definitely won't cure cancer or AIDS or depression or get me a drug patent and make me rich. Sorry.

But some days I do enjoy school. Usually these are the days that my experiments actually work and get cool data. Like this:

So what the heck is that thing? It's a cluster of fruit fly photoreceptors (eye cells) magnified 400 times. Each cell has two main sections: the cell body, where the nucleus is located and the rhabdomere where all the visual proteins are located. The bright stripes are rhabdomeres from two photoreceptor cells. They're fluorescent because I inserted a gene encoding a fluorescent protein into the fly's genome. The fluorescent protein is calcium sensitive, so it's brighter when there's calcium around. In this picture, the cell cluster is sitting in a high calcium solution and when light excites the cell, calcium rushes into the cell. Thus, the calcium increase inside the cell causes the fluorescent protein to glow. But that's enough nerdy stuff for now.

If you're really interested in how fruit flies (and other insects ) see then try this link to an article written by yours truly at wikipedia. And if you are interested, then you might be a geek.

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