No, zombies are not real (at least not yet), but that does not mean we can’t enjoy analyzing their mental capacities. This is the work of Brad Voytek, scientist at UCSF and our guest this month on Carry the One Radio. When Brad isn’t busy with his scientific research mapping the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that makes us human, he “studies” the effects of zombification on the brain. He uses this work as a fun way to teach neuroscience. Listen as Brad describes the zombie brain and how it can help us teach how the human brain might work.
The key to understanding our immune system might lie in understanding microRNAs. These are tiny strings of nucleotides (the same molecules that makes DNA) that influence how and which genes are expressed. This month we talk with Dr. Mark Ansel, an Assistant Professor in the UCSF Department of Microbiology & Immunology, about his work on these recently discovered molecules and their role in helping the body protect itself.
Within the cell, most RNA is produced from our DNA (genes) and translated to make proteins that help the cell function. microRNAs are produced from DNA but don’t make proteins. Instead, microRNAs ensure that the right genes are translated under the right conditions. microRNAs work in the immune system by helping a type of white blood cell, known as a T-cell, which regulate the production of antibodies that bind and destroy cellular invaders. The set of microRNAs that Dr. Ansel and his lab studies regulate genes that let T-cells recognize their environment and start the production of the correct antibodies. He has found that without these microRNAs, T-cells cannot properly mediate immunity. Dr. Ansel's work has important implications in understanding the immune system and what possibly goes wrong in diseases like HIV and AIDS. At the end of our interview, he talks about what motivates him most in science—the thrill of discovery.