Author: Abbey Bigler-Coyne

Headshot of Abbey Bigler

Abbey is a science writer who enjoys making important biological science and public health information accessible to everyone.

Posts by Abbey Bigler-Coyne

Quiz: Gauge Your Genetics Knowledge

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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.
Green circles and orange lines representing a DNA double helix with a magnifying glass zooming in on one section.
Credit: NIGMS.

In our miniseries on genetics, we’ve introduced the genome and how variants in DNA affect us. We’ve also discussed how people inherit genetic information and the way genes are expressed, as well as common tools researchers use to study DNA. We hope you’ve paid close attention because it’s time to test your knowledge of genetics! Take our quiz below, and let us know how many questions you answered correctly.

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How Do Scientists Study Genes?

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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.

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What Is Metabolism?

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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.

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How Are Physical Features and Health Conditions Inherited?

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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.

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What Is Genetics?

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This post is the first in our miniseries on genetics. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series.

Genetics is the study of genes and heredity—how traits are passed from parents to children through DNA. A gene is a segment of DNA that contains instructions for building one or more molecules that help the body work. Researchers estimate that humans have about 20,000 genes, which account for about 1 percent of our DNA. The remainder of the DNA plays a role in regulating genes, and scientists are researching other potential functions.

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Investigating the Primary Cilium: Q&A With Xuecai Ge

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A headshot of Dr. Xuecai Ge.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Xuecai Ge.

The brain is a large and complex organ, but some very small structures guide its development. Xuecai Ge, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Merced (UC Merced), has devoted her career to understanding one of these structures called the primary cilium. In an interview, Dr. Ge shared how her childhood experience inspired her to study science and what makes the primary cilium fascinating.

Q: How did you first become interested in science?

A: When I was a little kid, my mom was a primary care doctor, and I saw her treat patients in our community. I noticed that no matter who got a particular illness, she could use the same medicine to treat them. My little mind was amazed that the same medicine could work for so many different people! I think this early experience planted the original seed of my interest in life science.

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Cool Images: Radiant in Red

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Happy Valentine’s Day! In place of red roses, we hope you’ll accept a bouquet of beautiful scientific images featuring rich, red hues. Be sure to click all the way through to see the festive protein flowing through your blood!

For more scientific photos, illustrations, and videos in all the colors of the rainbow, visit our image and video gallery.

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RISE-ing Stars From Northern Arizona University

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Chantel wearing a traditional Native American dress and holding a graduation cap.
Chantel Tsosie at her college graduation, wearing her Tribe’s formal, traditional rug dress that her grandmother made. Credit: Courtesy of Chantel Tsosie.

“Science is for everyone. It’s in everything. It exists in cultures everywhere,” says Chantel Tsosie, a master’s student in the NIGMS-supported Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff. The program aims to prepare a diverse group of students for research careers through culturally relevant support, hands-on research experiences, and a tailored curriculum.

Chantel started her bachelor’s studies at NAU as a dental hygiene major and later changed her focus to biomedical sciences. “I’m from the Navajo Nation, and growing up on the reservation, I wasn’t really exposed to research as a career. At NAU, I began taking classes like microbiology and chemistry and found that I loved the lab portions of those. I met scientists who were Indigenous and really started looking up to them,” she says. When a faculty member brought RISE to her attention, she was immediately interested and reached out to its leaders, Catherine Propper, Ph.D., and Anita Antoninka, Ph.D.

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Ring In the New Year With Basic Research

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Empowering basic biomedical research, which focuses on understanding how living systems work, is one of NIGMS’ main goals. This type of research not only helps us learn how our bodies and those of other organisms function but also lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

We’re excited to see what the upcoming year has in store for the field! In preparation, we’re highlighting what NIGMS-supported scientists had to say in 2023 about the many merits of basic research. Also check out the links to the Biomedical Beat posts that feature them if you haven’t already.

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