Glenn Gilyot: Molecular Sensors and STEM Education

0 comments
Dr. Glenn Gilyot wearing safety glasses and gloves while pipetting a liquid from a tube.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Glenn Gilyot.

Glenn Gilyot, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemistry at Hampton-Sydney College in Virginia, studies how to use fluorescent sensors to detect certain disease biomarkers in the body. He credits two NIGMS training programs that he participated in as an undergraduate and graduate student with helping him launch a successful career in research. Outside the lab, Dr. Gilyot is passionate about science outreach and encouraging future researchers to follow their curiosities.

An Early Introduction to Chemistry

Working in chemistry runs in Dr. Gilyot’s family: His grandfather was a pharmacist at a small pharmacy in New Orleans, Louisiana, and his father was a criminalist for the New Orleans Police Department. “When I was a kid, I’d visit both my grandfather and father at work. My grandfather would tell me about the medicines he had in the store and explain what they did in the body. My dad would show me the instruments, such as a mass spectrometer that helped him find out the chemical composition of samples from crime scenes,” says Dr. Gilyot.

Continue reading “Glenn Gilyot: Molecular Sensors and STEM Education”

How Do Scientists Study Genes?

0 comments
This post is part of a miniseries on genetics. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series that you may have missed.
A DNA segment shown as a twisted ladder where each rung is half one color and half another.
DNA carries information needed for all cellular functions. Credit: NIGMS.

You may wonder how scientists study something as tiny as DNA. Over the past decades, researchers have developed a wide range of tools and techniques to help them unlock the secrets of human genomes and those of other organisms. Two key examples are DNA sequencing and gene editing.

DNA Sequencing

DNA sequencing, sometimes called gene or genome sequencing, enables researchers to “read” the order of the bases in a segment of DNA, which contains the information a cell needs to make important molecules like proteins, the functional building blocks of the cell. There are several methods for sequencing, but they all require many copies of the same DNA segment to get accurate results. Fortunately, scientists have developed a technique called polymerase chain reaction, often referred to as PCR, that can quickly and inexpensively create a large number of copies of a DNA segment.

Continue reading “How Do Scientists Study Genes?”

What Is Metabolism?

0 comments
Lactase shown as a clumped, oblong mass of purple, magenta, orange, and green.
Beta-galactosidase, also known as lactase, a metabolic enzyme that breaks down the sugar lactose. Credit: PDB 6DRV.

You’ve likely heard someone attribute their body size to a fast or slow metabolism. But did you know there’s much more to metabolism than calories burned? Metabolism includes all the chemical changes that occur as our bodies use enzymes to break down food, medicines, and biological substances as well as produce energy and materials needed for growth.

The Two Sides of Metabolism

Our bodies have many metabolic pathways, but they all fall into two main categories: catabolic and anabolic. Catabolic pathways break down complex molecules into simpler ones, usually releasing energy in the process. For example, catabolic pathways turn large carbohydrate molecules from our food into simple sugars, such as glucose. Some of the most well-known catabolic pathways then convert the simple sugar glucose into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that cells commonly use as an energy source.

Continue reading “What Is Metabolism?”

Bryan Dickinson Designs Molecules to Solve Biological Mysteries

0 comments
A portrait image of Dr. Dickinson.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Bryan Dickinson.

“Being a researcher gives you the opportunity to have an impact on the world. It’s a privilege to be able to answer questions that can make a difference in people’s lives,” says Bryan Dickinson, Ph.D. He first fell in love with science as an undergraduate student, and now, as a professor of chemical biology at the University of Chicago, Dr. Dickinson still finds excitement in even the most challenging research questions.

Where Chemistry Meets Biology

Dr. Dickinson majored in biochemistry at the University of Maryland (UMD) in College Park, but he didn’t know what it meant to be a researcher until he started working in labs. His experiences in an analytical chemistry lab at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and then a biophysics lab at UMD helped him realize that research isn’t like science taught in the classroom, with a list of facts to learn. “The reality is that science is a set of guiding principles that we test under different conditions to learn when they apply in the world,” says Dr. Dickinson. He enjoyed the freedom in asking scientific questions and in how research could be like solving a puzzle.

Continue reading “Bryan Dickinson Designs Molecules to Solve Biological Mysteries”

Motor Proteins and Microscopy: Q&A With Morgan DeSantis

0 comments
A portrait image of Dr. Morgan DeSantis.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Morgan DeSantis.

“I remember thinking in my first cellular biology class how impossibly beautiful it is that there are tiny machines in our bodies doing work,” says Morgan DeSantis, Ph.D., an assistant professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. We talked with Dr. DeSantis about how her career in science almost didn’t happen, how happy she is that it did, and what she’s learning through her research on molecular machines.

Q: How did you become interested in science?

A: I wasn’t remotely interested in science in high school—I was a self-identified artist. I went to the College of Wooster in Ohio with the sole purpose of studying art and doing pottery. But one day during my freshman year, a box with all the pieces I made throughout the year fell, and everything inside broke. It’s hard to describe the emotions I felt that day, but something changed in me, and I realized pottery wasn’t for me. I couldn’t start the projects over, and I didn’t want to drop out and move back home. So, I decided to become a medical doctor.

Continue reading “Motor Proteins and Microscopy: Q&A With Morgan DeSantis”

Advancing Endometriosis Research With Caroline Appleyard

0 comments
A headshot of Dr. Appleyard.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Caroline B. Appleyard.

The job opening at Ponce Health Sciences University (PHSU) in Ponce, Puerto Rico—home to great coral reefs—seemed like a perfect fit for Caroline B. Appleyard, Ph.D., given that scuba diving was one of her favorite hobbies. She only intended to stay for a short time, but now, more than 25 years later, Dr. Appleyard is a professor of physiology and pharmacology and program director of the NIGMS-funded Graduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (G-RISE) at PHSU.

An Interest in Inflammation

Growing up in Scotland, Dr. Appleyard was captivated by a children’s show with science demonstrations that helped kids and teens understand the world around them. She enjoyed studying biology and chemistry, and in high school, joined a lab at a local university that studied pharmacology. Her lab project studying the medicine aspirin ultimately solidified her interest in a career in research.

Continue reading “Advancing Endometriosis Research With Caroline Appleyard”

How Are Physical Features and Health Conditions Inherited?

0 comments
This post is part of a miniseries on genetics. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series that you may have missed.

Have you ever been told that you have your mother’s eyes? Or maybe you’ve found that you and your father share a condition such as asthma? People who are biologically related often have similarities in appearance and health because they have some of the same genetic variants. However, you’ve likely noticed that siblings with the same biological parents can differ significantly. Each person’s genome is a combination of DNA from both of their parents, but siblings’ DNA can differ because of the mixing and matching involved in creating reproductive cells.

Continue reading “How Are Physical Features and Health Conditions Inherited?”

Research Organism Superheroes: Hawaiian Bobtail Squid

0 comments
A Hawaiian bobtail squid swimming in front of a submerged hand, appearing as if to fit into the palm of the hand.
This adult Hawaiian bobtail squid swimming in front of a submerged hand illustrates its small size. Credit: The labs of Margaret J. McFall-Ngai, Carnegie Institution for Science/California Institute of Technology, and Edward G. Ruby, California Institute of Technology.

The Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) is only about as big as a golf ball, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in its superpower—an invisibility cloak to be exact. Thanks to its symbiotic relationship with the bioluminescent bacteria Vibrio fischeri, it’s able to seemingly disappear from its predators when swimming at night.  

These super-squid live in the shallow coastal waters in the Pacific, like those around the Hawaiian Islands. They’re nocturnal, so they hunt their prey—small shrimp and other crustaceans—at night and hide, often by burying themselves in the sand, during the day while they rest. Although Hawaiian bobtail squid live their short 3-10 month lives around one another, they generally only interact for breeding, and even then, they only reproduce once in their lifetimes and die soon after reproduction.

Continue reading “Research Organism Superheroes: Hawaiian Bobtail Squid”

Analyzing Aggression in Female Fruit Flies: Q&A With Caroline Palavicino-Maggio

0 comments
A headshot of Dr. Palavicino-Maggio.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Caroline Palavicino-Maggio.

“Turning personal grief into a relentless drive for answers and action has been a big part of my life,” says Caroline Palavicino-Maggio, Ph.D., the director of the Neurobiological Mechanisms of Aggression Laboratory at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Her sister’s death played a large role in her decision to study the biological mechanisms of behavior and do advocacy work in mental wellness. We spoke with Dr. Palavicino-Maggio about what her path was to becoming a researcher, what she’s learning about the cellular basis of aggression, and why she believes a career in science is exciting.

Continue reading “Analyzing Aggression in Female Fruit Flies: Q&A With Caroline Palavicino-Maggio”

Genetics by the Numbers

0 comments

Even though scientists have been studying genetics since the mid-19th century, they continue to make new discoveries about genes and how they impact our health on a regular basis. NIGMS researchers study how genes are expressed and regulated, how gene variants with different “spellings” of their genetic code affect health, and much more. Get the drop on DNA and the gist of genes with these fast facts:

Continue reading “Genetics by the Numbers”