Feb. 18, 2019
Feeling sad, tired, and anxious? Well perhaps your serotonin levels are low. Serotonin has become popularly recognized as a “happy” molecule. It is synthesized within the GI tract’s enterochromaffin cells, where the amino acid tryptophan interacts with tryptophan hydroxylase to create 5-hydroxytryptamine(5-HT). After a simple decarboxylation of 5-HT, Serotonin is formed and ready to help improve mood, energy levels, and appetite! Some of the most popular commercial antidepressants directly influence serotonin levels and are termed SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). These drugs work by inhibiting the body’s natural reuptake methods of serotonin, allowing for the neurotransmitter to stay in the system longer and in greater quantity. However, there are also natural ways to improving serotonin levels such as exercising and having proper exposure to sunlight. PDB ID: 3BRN. Ref: Young SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007;32(6):394-9.
Feb. 11, 2019
Valentine’s Day is upon us, and along with it comes the concept of love. Researchers have pinpointed the body’s perfect recipe for love: Dopamine and #Phenylethylamine (PEA). PEA is shown in yellow in this crystal structure taken from a fly (PDB: 5GI6). It is the chemical responsible for that euphoric feeling we get when we fall in love. You know the kind: the butterflies in your stomach, the “warm fuzzies”, first date jitters. As it turns out, PEA is an amphetamine that triggers the release of dopamine in the body, so it is no wonder that people feel so good when they fall in love. If you don’t have a special someone this Valentine’s Day, don’t worry; you can get plenty of PEA from chocolate. So be sure to stock up as soon as it goes on sale!
Feb. 4, 2019
The initial symptoms of whooping cough tend to be mild and resemble a common cold. However, after a week or two, the symptoms worsen into severe and prolonged coughing attacks. The disease is more severe in unvaccinated infants and toddlers. In older children and adults, the disease may be milder with a persistent cough of varying severity. In recent years, despite increases in vaccination, there has been a puzzling resurgence of whooping cough cases in developed countries such as the UK and US. For instance, in 2014, California recorded a peak in reported cases. It is thought that the waning effectiveness of the vaccine may be a major culprit. However, recent studies suggest that the newer vaccines protect against serious disease but may fail to prevent transmission. As such, vaccinated people carrying the bacteria may be transmitting the disease unknowingly to unvaccinated individuals. The pertussis toxin pictured here (PDB: 1PTO) is an important toxin produced by Bordetella pertussis. Antibodies generated against pertussis toxin can be used for treating high-risk infants who are exposed to whooping cough.
Jan. 28, 2019
Most people are familiar with DNA and RNA as the molecules which store and transmit genetic information in our cells - but did you know that RNA actually serves several other functions? For example, one of the most important molecular machines in any living thing is the ribosome (pictured PDB 4V5D). This molecule is responsible for building proteins by reading messenger RNA (mRNA) and combining amino acids. It turns out, though, that the ribosome largely consists of RNA itself! Two long ribosomal RNA (rRNA) strands - which wrap around themselves to form a complicated three-dimensional structure - associate with each other and several proteins to form this extremely important organelle. This render also shows another interesting form of RNA called transfer RNA (tRNA), in red. This type of RNA carries amino acids to the ribosome. If the tRNA’s recognition sequence, or “anti-codon” matches up to the codon on the mRNA that is being read, the ribosome will incorporate its cargo into the new protein strand. Between mRNA, rRNA, and tRNA, some form of RNA mediates nearly every aspect of the synthesis of the proteins that keep us alive!
Caffeine: The Good, The Bad, and The History
Jan. 24, 2019
Written By Vince Parish, Jacob Byerly, and Eduardo Priego
Caffeine has been consumed by humans all over the world for thousands of years. An ancient Chinese legend says the Emperor Shen Nung first discovered tea in 2437 BCE when the wind blew leaves into his boiling water. He was intrigued by the pleasant aro...
Jan. 21, 2019
Spaghetti! At least that’s what this picture looks like. This “spaghetti” molecule is actually collagen (PDB ID: 1BKV) – a vital part of the human body. The entire human protein content is 30% collagen and our largest organ, skin, is 70% collagen. Its secondary structure is a triple-helix of amino acid fibrils – similar to rope. This makes it perfect to use in situations where large tensile strength is needed. Thus, collagen is also found in the connective tissues of the body such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bones. Collagen is no one-trick pony! There are 29 versions of collagen all with unique functions and purposes. There are many beauty products that contain collagen and maybe you’re skeptical of their claims, but rest assured – there is science behind it! This paper reports that consuming collagen will reduce skin wrinkles and improve overall dermal skin health.
Jan. 14, 2019
The way we see the world around us would be much different without #rhodopsin. Our retina contains rod cells that utilize rhodopsin to enable us to see things more clearly in dimly lit environments. Inactivated rhodopsin consists of two key components: the trans-membrane protein opsin and its covalently bound partner: a small ligand known as 11-cis-retinal. When rhodopsin absorbs a photon, the ligand isomerizes into its trans conformation and disassociates from opsin, leading to additional structural changes in opsin that begins the signaling cascade. Opsin works as a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), recruiting G proteins that convert the signal to electrical impulses. These travel to the brain to be interpreted as vision. Pictured here is bovine rhodopsin (PDB: 1F88), the first GPCR to be determined via x-ray crystallography.
AI: Neural Networks
Jan. 10, 2019
Written By Juan Zambrano, Eduardo Priego, Jacob, Byerly, and Vince Parish
Since the 1927 release of the classic silent film Metropolis, the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been heavily explored in various forms of media. Until recently, however, limited computational power has kept it squarely in the realm of sci...
Jan. 7, 2019
Mistletoe is a plant recognized during the holiday season due to ancient Druidic and Norse traditions that were adopted by the English. It is a common name for a specific hemi-parasitic plant found on the British Isles, but we use it to refer to any parasitic plants with similar habits. Mistletoe plants are toxic if eaten because they contain the active substance alkaloid tyramine (pictured in yellow here, PDB: 5FF9). Symptoms include blurred vision, nausea, abdominal pain, blood pressure changes, and possibly death. However, the plant has been used medicinally in Europe for hundreds of years to treat arthritis, epilepsy, high blood pressure, and infertility. Studies have found it may reduce the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy during cancer treatment.
The Adaptive Immune System
Dec. 20, 2018
Written By Jordan Graves, Jacob Byerly, Vince Parish, and Eduardo Priego
Throughout the day our bodies are bombarded with any number of foreign pathogens, some of which are harmless, others of which are potentially lethal. We are constantly fighting off these invaders to keep ourselves healthy — a good thing to keep in mind...