“One of the best aspects of research is the excitement of discovery, being the first person in the world to know a small detail about the system you’re studying,” says Jeffrey Mugridge, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Delaware in Newark. We talked with Dr. Mugridge about how a pet store job sparked his early interest in science, why he decided to change his career trajectory after graduate school, and what he believes is key to being a successful researcher.
Q: How did you first become interested in science?
A: My strong interest in science didn’t develop until I was in high school—I wasn’t one of those kids who had a chemistry set or a deep love for dinosaurs or anything like that. But in high school, I worked in a pet store, where I learned a lot about aquarium science, including the ins and outs of managing water chemistry to keep fish alive. I also had a fantastic chemistry teacher who really helped me foster a love for the field.
This August marks 10 years of the blog! Throughout the past decade, we’ve brought you blog posts that explore basic science topics, quiz your knowledge, showcase cool images, and more! Some of our most-read favorites include:
Dr. Muller has come a long way, both geographically and professionally, since her childhood in France. She was the first person in her family to graduate from high school, where she excelled in science, and went on to attend École Normale Supérieure (ENS) de Lyon, a research-oriented undergraduate institution in Lyon, France. “We spent weeks at a time in laboratory-based classes, working in real labs. That’s when I realized people could do research full-time, which caught my attention,” says Dr. Muller. She double-majored in biology and geology, and soon chose to focus her career on immunology and virology.
You might first think about sports when you hear the word base, but not all bases are on the baseball diamond. In chemistry, a base is a molecule that reacts with an acid, often by accepting a proton from the acid or from water. Baking soda and dish soap are common bases.
RNA, though less well known than its cousin DNA, is equally integral to our bodies. RNA molecules are long, usually single-stranded chains of nucleotides. (DNA molecules are also made up of nucleotides but are typically double-stranded.) There are three major types of RNA, which are all involved in protein synthesis:
Messenger RNA (mRNA) is complementary to one of the DNA strands of a gene and carries genetic information for protein synthesis to the ribosome—the molecular complex in which proteins are made.
Transfer RNA (tRNA) works with mRNA to make sure the right amino acids are inserted into the forming protein.
Ribosomal RNA (rRNA), together with proteins, makes up ribosomes and functions to recognize the mRNA and tRNA that are presented to the ribosomal complex.
NIGMS is pleased to bring you Pathways: The Vaccine Science Issue [PDF], which explains how the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines for COVID-19 work and how they were developed. Building on years of research, scientists were able to create these vaccines, thoroughly test them, and get them to the public as quickly as possible—while still making sure they were safe and effective.
Pathways, designed for students in grades 6 through 12, aims to build awareness of basic biomedical science and its importance to health while inspiring careers in research. All materials in the collection are available online for free.
In everyday use, most people understand translation to mean converting words from one language to another. But when biologists talk about translation, they mean the process of making proteins based on the genetic information encoded in messenger RNA (mRNA). Proteins are essential for virtually every process in our bodies, from transporting oxygen to defending against infection, so translation is vital for keeping us alive and healthy.
Whether animals are looking for food or mates, or avoiding pathogens and predators, they rely on biosensors—molecules that allow them to sense and respond to their environments. Christina Dawn Smolke, Ph.D. , a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University in California, focuses her research on creating new kinds of biosensors to receive, process, and transmit molecular information. Her lab has built RNA molecules, or switches, that can alter gene expression based on biochemical changes they detect.
DNA, with its double-helix shape, is the stuff of genes. But genes themselves are only “recipes” for protein molecules, which are molecules that do the real heavy lifting (or do much of the work) inside cells.
Artist interpretation of RNAP grasping and unwinding a DNA double helix. Credit: Wei Lin and Richard H. Ebright.
Here’s how it works. A molecular machine called RNA polymerase (RNAP) travels along DNA to find a place where a gene begins. RNAP uses a crab-claw-like structure to grasp and unwind the DNA double helix at that spot. RNAP then copies (“transcribes”) the gene into messenger RNA (mRNA), a molecule similar to DNA.
The mRNA molecule travels to one of the cell’s many protein-making factories (ribosomes), which use the mRNA message as instructions for making a specific protein.
Viravuth (“Voot”) Yin, associate professor of regenerative biology and medicine at MDI Biological Laboratory and chief scientific officer at Novo Biosciences, Inc., in Bar Harbor, Maine. Credit: MDI Biological Laboratory.
In 1980, a week after his 6th birthday, Viravuth (“Voot”) Yin immigrated with his mother, grandfather, and three siblings from Cambodia to the United States. Everything they owned fit into a single, 18-inch carry-on bag. They had to build new lives from almost nothing. So, it’s perhaps fitting that Yin studies regeneration, the fascinating ability of some animals, such as salamanders, sea stars, and zebrafish, to regrow damaged body parts, essentially from scratch.
Yin’s path wasn’t always smooth. His family settled in Hartford, Connecticut, near an uncle who had been granted asylum during the Vietnam War. Yin got into a lot of trouble in school, trying to learn a new culture and fit in. Things improved when his mother moved him and his siblings to West Hartford, well known for its strong schools.