As I sat at my dining table, trying to get my critical thinking essay finished this morning, the only thought that kept flashing through my mind was “COFFEE.” Thank every deity that last night I stay up late (yet again) searching the internet, and think I’ve found the best solution to this problem.

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the more I learn about cells, the more I think we are seeing a hundred reflections in a funhouse mirror

We’ve just finished the first two sections of physiology: Cells and Tissues.

Really fascinating.

We all learned about or heard of the cell, most of us more that 5 years ago. A gel-filled bag full of little blobs called organelles floating around, a large nucleus in the middle who is the boss, and a membrane holding it all together. Basically a bag of goo with lumps. Well, that idea got us a long way, but has turned out to not be very accurate. Textbooks need to be rewritten. The trouble is, the more we learn, the more we don’t know.

The organelles that were identified years ago still live in the cell, but better microscopes have shown there are other things within the cell as well. True, everything sits within a goo, but the organelles are fixed in place on a complex framework, like scaffolding, made of fibers called microtubules (green). When things need to be moved around within the cell, they don’t float randomly, but are actually “walked” down the framework by a molecular motor called dynein. Like little men in a factory! When they need to move to a new place, the microtubule scaffolding is remodeled, building paths to other places within the cell where things are needed. How? We don’t know.

Dynein – little men (1:13-1:40).

When cells need to make new proteins, which are machines (and in fact proteins make other proteins), they follow a code which is like a blueprint, with all of the materials somehow being available at that location and being brought to the protein to assemble, attaching one at a time, at high speed like a manufacturing plant.  How? We don’t know.

In a factory:

And in the cell:

Going back a ways, we all started off as one cell containing the DNA code, like the “blueprint.” From there, different parts of the blueprint were used to make different things, first making machines, then using those machines to make materials, which were used to make bigger machines. Some parts of the plans code for highly specialized machines. Some things are only made once. Some only at a certain stage of development. Some are used nearby, others far away. Some cells continue working for decades, others finish their task and self-destruct, getting cleaned up to make room for other work to be done. When you look at it as machinery, it’s highly organized and efficient, with everything very precise in order to work smoothly and seamlessly at high rates of speed on and on for years. How? We don’t know.

Now that we’re building microscopes strong enough to visualize all of these happenings, the similarities to things we’ve “discovered” and built are shocking. Take this flagellum, not unlike an outboard motor. We have only recently been able to visualize something this small, and yet we’ve been making and using it on a macro scale for years. How? We don’t know.

Are we not just clumsily redesigning the same machines on a grander scale? After physics discovering the “smallest” particles again and again, isn’t it possible that the divisions are infinite? And if so, wouldn’t this also work in the opposite direction? I can’t help but wonder, what is the bigger picture we are contributing to? Why do meteorites contain genetic material? Are we really all made of stars?

Just wanted to share a little of what’s bending my mind this month. Next we’re on to organ systems, can’t wait to talk muscles and bones for the next couple weeks. :)


What is today, Wednesday? Somehow it doesn’t feel like it.

After a busy, fun-filled weekend, and filling my Sunday night with too much phone time, I’ve put myself too far behind on sleep already. After only two days of lectures this week, I still manage to feel like it should be Friday. It’s amazing what sleep-deprivation does to a person, especially an 8-hour-per-night person like me. But last night after another (long) phone call, my morale was given a kick-start back into productivity. I caught up on emails and little notes that have been cluttering my mind. Today I filled in my course reviews, checked on the status of my pillow delivery, and attended the Staff Student Liaison meeting. Now I’m able to sit down with my blog, (almost) guilt-free, bathroom smelling of clean laundry that’s hung to dry, agenda-notes email sent off to the class, dishes washed, contacts out.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, arguably the best American holiday of the year, and although most of my classmates don’t celebrate regularly, a few of us are having a dinner. I will be hosting 5 of my classmates for a “traditional” meal of roast duck, mashed potatoes and carrots, stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce, and Spanish pumpkin pie. We are a diverse group from different backgrounds and nationalities, but I am excited to celebrate, not only the day, but the people I will be sharing it with.

I’m thankful to be on this adventure to England. I’m thankful for the wonderful friends I’ve made, who will no doubt be friends for life. I’m thankful for my partner, who I won’t have to miss anymore in a few short weeks. I’m thankful for a program that challenges and excites me all at the same time. And I’m thankful that tonight I will go to sleep before 2am.

Yesterday I palpated the coccyx

They say the low back and pelvis are the hardest to palpate. And we’ll have to do it all the time. So we start there and work our way to the other, easier areas.

Yesterday was sacrum and coccyx. In case you don’t use these terms everyday, that’s very low back and tailbone. The first reaction, pretty much unanimously, was something like ‘ugh’ but it was actually quite interesting, relatively simple, and surprisingly variable! My first partner had a very obvious sacrum but hard-to-feel lumbar spine, which was exactly opposite what I expected, since the spine has SP’s (spinous processes) that stick out and are generally quite palpable. My second parter had a sacrum with a right torsion, and she is an ectomorph (thin, lanky) so it felt like a very large bump at the lower right end of her sacrum, and almost no coccyx palpable. My third partner was quite simple to feel all of the bony landmarks. Amazing how vastly different the same (assumably) structures can feel from one person to the next. Anatomic variability is really quite diverse, and yet still similar in very important ways.

Today we study more physiology. And probably do out practice exam. Wish me luck!

Weekend wellbeing

It’s been a good one. Dinner with friends, practice/study with a friend, flea & farmers market, lots more shopping, and finally last night got loads of sleep. I have a full fridge, more of the mundane necessaries for daily life, and furniture on the way. This coming weekend I’ll get to see two very good friends from far away. I’m pleased with all that I’ve accomplished. Now if only this scientific method essay would write itself…

Holland Road – day 3

This post is for anyone who read my previous post about my new flat, in which I posted some awful pictures of a cute space-in-progress. I have now been living here for three days and really liking it. Especially today when I got a few more pieces of furniture, including a kitchen table, fold-out desk, 2 wooden chairs (that need recovered), and rubbish bin (trash can). All quite exciting. Continue reading