Thursday, April 13, 2006


Inspired by some of my friends who have started blogging about their science, I will attempt a few posts to spread awareness(!!!) about cell biology and perhaps a little about developmental biology. Here goes nothing.

Ugh! Now that's a face that only a mother could love. Maybe..not only mothers but also the few scientists who have chosen it as their model organism. It is not a rule that the model organism you work on should be cute but it helps.(first said by Ralph Greenspan). Imagine waking up every morning and thinking "I have to go back to the lab to work on Axolotl" and then that horrendous image would come to mind. I for one would definitely just turn back and go to sleep again.

However this awful creature is making waves though for one thing that it does - regeneration. If you cut off a limb of this amazing animal it can regerate it....completely! Magic!

Not really. Of course it would have a 'developmental program'[a series of events involving the sequential expression and use of proteins for a develpomental event like formation of a wing etc] . Just that the specific developmental program is not known yet. Once that puzzle is cracked it would bring in billions to the person who figures out how this is done. (and you thought there was no money in science!)

The brightest among you would have figured it out why this thing is uber-hot by now. The application of this program either in vitro or in vivo could possibly lead to regeneration of human body parts like a factory.

All paradise and glory but there is catch! (isn't there always?)

Unlike my favourite model organism, (the fruit fly - muuuaaah!) the genetics of axolotl has not yet been well worked out. I am sure it is because of its hideous looks but then no one asked me. It is related to lizards and genetics here is difficult. For good genetics you need a way to make 'bad genes'(mutations for the purists) so that you can study the effects of these 'bad genes'. One way is to hang around and wait till you get a 'bad gene'/mutation that arises spontaneously in the population. The other way is to actually just go in and damage the damn DNA.

Recently scientists have managed to do something like that. They were able to make transgenic Axolotl i.e. they have managed to put some foreign DNA into a wild axolotl. Actually they put GFP into it.

Why GFP? GFP stands for Green Flourescent Protein which is actually a gene from Jellyfish that glows under Ultra-Violet light. The beauty of GFP is that it can be expressed in any organism still it would glow under UV. Therefore, this is a wonderful non-invasive marker for cells that you want to track.

Advantage Axolotl...and now you can track the cell lines with GFP as they develop so that you will be able to follow which cell gives rise to what(the so called cell lineage). So then you can determine in the final regerated limb which cell came from where. Of course this technique can be used to damage DNA to make mutants as well. With this new technique we should be able to figure out soon how axolotl manages to regenerate body parts.

So will be able to order our body parts soon? Don't hold your breath. There is still a long way to go.

P.S. For the nitpickers, axolotl is not the only organism that can 'regenerate', there are also the planaria(lower in the evolutionary ladder and therefore farther from humans), lizards(tails!) and earthworms. In addition, there was one report of a mouse that can completely heal its heart.

(The picture is from here.)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

My Bloginfluence is 105.6

Got this nifty link from this blog.

My influence


The most comprehensive 'blog ranking' system I have come across. It takes into consideration blog links, post links, web links, bloglines subscriptions and Google page rank. To top it all, it has a formula to put each into perspective. Of course, perspective is always a subjective matter.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Somethings irk me. This is one of them.

My dear institute has been facing an accomodation problem for the graduate students. Right now there is absolutely no space in the hostels for the new students that will join this academic year. In fact of the ones that joined last year some of them are still living in the colony flats. Most are still sharing rooms.

It is not as if this problem was not forseen. Surely they would have thought of this when they were taking students last year. What would the solution to that be? Take less students which they obviuosly did not do or build a new hostel of course.

How long does it take to make a new building? There was a four storey building in Colaba that fell last May. Now it has been rebuilt and is functioning normally in less than a year. Keeping that in mind, you need a maximum of one year to build a four storied new hostel. Given that this problem was foreseen last year, why has that new hostel building not been built?

Even the construction work on the new hostel has not begun but we hear that the plans have been approved. Anyways, the fact remains that there is no new hostel yet.

All paths now closed to them, what do the power-that-be decide to do? They take their ire out on the students since they are the most expendable commodity here. They ask the sixth year students to leave with a notice of two months. Of course they have been provided accomodation in a place far away from here which would take at least two hours commuting everyday and commuting a city like bombay is hell.

I agree that our having an accomodation so close to campus is a nice thing and it is a luxury that not every grad student in the world enjoys. All I am saying that it would have been better if the students had beeen given some sort of warning that they will have to leave so that they could have tried to finish by the stipulated time. But that sadly did not happen.

If they do this next year it would be justified as the students would have had enough warning to at least try to finish things on time. I would have not have any problem in that.

But who am I anyways? Just a student and I don't have any say in this.

They have the impression as if we like to stay in this rotten place and that we actually enjoy it. We don't. Most of us would like to leave right now if possible but it is our bosses that don't let us go. "finish this and that and then we will see", he says.

Of course that brings us to issues like if a project fails and the student actually spends a long time on a Ph.D., then whose reponsibility is it? The student or the P.I.'s but that deserves an entire post altogether.

No I don't have any friends who have been affected by this decision for whom I am writing this and no, my real world alter ego will not subscribe to any of this if you ask her. Sorry but yes she is chicken that ways. It just the indignation of it that rankles. No this is not an attempt to incite students. I know that they have done whatever was possible. This is just an attempt to put my point of view across. That's all.