Monday, September 28, 2009

BYBS: Brain Science Podcast

So I was, as usual, trying to find a topic to blog about. It being Monday morning at 6am, and therefore just a wee bit past Sunday (though the whole BYBS thing is as much of an excuse to get me to do something as anything else, but that's another story) and I was debating whether to blog about a kick-butt Podcastle episode or a kick-butt episode of Brain Science Podcast.

I finally settled on Brain Science Podcast, specifically episode number 59: Interview with Guy Caldwell. This is mostly because Dr. Caldwell brings a certain enthusiasm to what others might consider to be a boring topic: worms.

In particular, he talks about a worm called caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans as this critter goes by at cocktail parties. C. elegans has a number of distinctions which make it useful to scientists like the fact that the complete cell lineage for the critter has been determined.

Can you imagine the people who had to do that job?!

Cell number 2,643...check...2644...check...2645...check.

I would gasp with disbelief at the mind-numbing nature of that job if it were not for a) the unbelievably boring nature of many jobs that people do and b) I'm not sure that this critter actually has that many cells.

Anyhow, one of the cool things this guy managed to do with C. elegans is to paste some jellyfish genes that give off light into the neurons of the worm so that one could, for example, see if some combination of conditions was causing said neurons to die off. That, in turn, came in handy for helping to tease out some aspects of Parkinson's disease.

Put another way, you could take a look at a worm and ask a simple question like: "Hey is the thing glowing? No? Then all the dopamine producing neurons are dead." This is much simpler than getting a worm analyst to talk to the thing.

It's stuff like this that wins the "aint it cool?" category for extreme cleverness, but then there's the whole issue of Dr. Caldwell's enthusiasm for the subject. I mean it sounds like he actually enjoys this work.

As someone who at times feels like a burn-out, chewed up, dehydrated husk of a human being, listening to someone with that sort of vigor brings back fond memories. He speaks with admiration for the guys who sat there and catalog cell lineages. He talks about how his research could be used to create therapies for Parkinson's disease.

That's the kind of energy and optimism, the looking forward to tomorrow that I find inspiring.

1 comment:

Tanis said...

'tis the people who are passionate about what they do that can make things fun. even worms :)
I suppose there are more people out there who are actually doing what they love than I know about. It'd be nice to be one of them.