25. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: PhD

Greetings friends,

For anyone who is just stumbling upon my blog, I am an OD/PhD dual degree student at NECO and Boston U. The program structure is a 3-3-1: 3 years at NECO, 3 years at BU, and 1 last year in clinic through NECO. I am almost to the halfway point! I have finished 3 years at NECO and am just starting my PhD program now. NECO is one of a few optometry schools that offers a dual degree where you can earn a PhD in addition to your OD.

Updates about my life at BU are in order. Firstly, I am now 2 months in to the official start of my PhD program. I have already finished with a 6 week graduate course on the genome, learned the lab techniques of PCR and immunostaining, and am currently continuing my summer research project using postmortem human brain tissue.

What’s the genome you ask? The genome is basically the library of your DNA, which is the chemical information that defines who you are, one cell at a time. The genome consists of all your genes in your 46 chromosomes. It’s like a library that has a book for every gene, and the words in the book are equivalent to your DNA sequences (the chemical code). What the genome is lacking, however, is what is known as the “transcriptome.”

The central dogma of how DNA makes you into you, says that DNA is rewritten in a slightly different chemical form, known as RNA, before that RNA is finally translated into a totally different molecular makeup, known as proteins. Then proteins carry out most of the functions of the cells. They are the work-horses, the energy-users, the trash degraders, etc.

But there is an intermediate between the “books” with instructions and the “workers” with the muscle. You could think of the intermediate, RNA, as the “brains of the operation,” taking the knowledge written in the books and integrating it to determine how they want to instruct the proteins to do the work.

The transcriptome is the library of all the RNA intermediates. It would theoretically simply mirror the genome (the DNA), except for there is a very efficient tool that the cells use to get more than one protein (the final product) from just one gene (in the DNA). The key is the RNA can be cut and pasted, modified, sent off to specific locations and specific machinery in the cell, and it can even be regulated by RNA itself. These intermediates between your DNA and your proteins allow for a huge amount of diversity in the cells. Your brain cells, muscle cells, gastric juice-secreting cells, and any others all have the same DNA! How that DNA is regulated, many times through the different forms of RNA or completely shutting down a section of the DNA, is how we get such diversity of cells in our bodies.

So that is what my first graduate class at BU was about – the genome and how the cell uses it. I will admit it was a fast-paced course, heavy in molecular details that I had not given too much thought to since undergrad. I’m very glad I took it though. It gave me a new perspective to use when reading journal articles or listening to scientific talks, knowing the context of the cellular environment.

As my advisor saw me consumed by my genome course and worried about my grades, he reminded me that when becoming a PhD, all that matters is the knowledge you contribute to your field. That motivated me to get back to the lab, get on the microscope, and look at things that no one has looked at before.