Saturday, February 8, 2014

My Brain and Body: A Snapshot of Distracted Studying


So, I'm studying away, learning about drugs designed to fight the Influenza A and B viruses - Oseltamivir and Zanamivir, better known as Tamiflu and Relenza. I learn that they work by inhibiting a specific protein that the flu viruses use when infecting our cells: Neuraminidase.

My brain and my body then do this:

Brain: Oh crap, I don't remember what neuraminidase does.

Body: [types into google "neuraminidase," shuns first entry on wikipedia, clicks the second search result (an article called Influenza Neuraminidase by David Goodsell from the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics when it apparently won "Molecule of the Month" in May 2009)

Brain: Oh yeah, I remember from last year when we learned about H1N1. The N stands for Neuraminidase, and the H stands for Hemaglutinin... What does Hemaglutinin do? 

Body: [slides fingers over trackpad, rapidly twitches ocular muscles to shift pupils back and forth, adjusts lens focus and pupillary dilation reflexively]

Brain: Oh, there... It says Hemaglutinin is a protein that grabs onto some sugar molecules on the surface of our cells, anchoring the virus so it can inject its viral DNA into the cell. And there - it tells what Neuraminidase does, exactly... Looks like Neuraminidase works to let the virus leave the cell. Ahh, I remember - once the virus has hijacked the cell's DNA replication machinery to duplicate itself and it's ready to leave the cell by exiting back through the cell's membrane, Neuraminidase snips the sugar molecules on the surface of the human cell so they don't get grabbed by Hemaglutinin, trapping the virus to the surface of the cell.

Body: [scratches chin with fingertips, unconsciously tugs beard in an unfortunately habitual manner always acted out when Brain is lost in thought, contracts diaphragm and intercostal muscles to create a net negative intrathoracic pressure, expanding the lungs and inflating alveoli before relaxing while slightly tightening the vocal cords to produce a satisfying sigh]

Brain: Okay, so Oseltamivir and Zanamivir make it so the virus gets stuck to the cells it infects, rather than letting the replicated viruses leave the cell to go infect other cells. This must give the cytotoxic T cells a chance to come kill the virus-infected cells before the viruses can spread very much. Cool.

Body: [flicks eyes randomly around page, seeking something to intrigue Brain]

Brain: Hey, check out the structure of Neuraminidase, pretty cool. Looks like it's a tetramer. Wow, that's crazy complex. I wonder how many amino acids are in each monomer...

Body: [types Cmd+N, "Neuraminidase Structure Amino Acids," taps fifth search result in Google (an article called Influenza Virus Neuraminidase: Structure and Function), eyes scan, scan, scan]

Brain: Ah, there it is! Looks like Neuraminidase has 470 amino acids split up between the 4 tetramers. Weird though - that's not an even division. 470 / 4 = 117.5. I would have expected it to be evenly divisible. There must be linking regions on each tetramer of an odd number of amino acids.

Body: [flicks fingers and eyes to scan second page of online document, raises levator palpebrae muscles to produce humanoid expression of surprise]

Brain: Whoa, each virus has 50 neuraminidase tetramers. Crazy. Whoa, look at the time. I've spent too much time on this. Gotta get back to studying. Wait, though, this was too cool to not share. Our world is SO COMPLEX! I can't just tuck this information away, keeping it for myself... Hmm, I haven't written in the blog in a while... What the heck, it's a Saturday.

Body: [types "", taps "New Post"]

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