Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What next?

I know it's been a while since I last posted here. Life gets pretty hectic in the fall. I teach Genetics every fall three mornings a week with about 100 students and 4 TAs who teach 7 lab sections. And I've been trying to think of a good topic. My sister recently asked me a question about metabolism and whether, if it is low, is there a way to reset it or are you screwed (my words). Also, I just read a blog that described a scientist's experience with the Dr. Oz show where there was a definite bias in the editing and much of what she had to say - which refuted Dr. Oz's beliefs of genetically modified foods (GMO) - did not make it into the edited version (you can read Dr. Ronald's post here: Though much of what a non-scientist had to say about the dangers of GMO did make it on the show.

So - the choices are metabolism, GMO, or maybe even the biases of the media?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Running Life

So I've been running pretty much since high school (track & cross country) with a 4 year break during college. During high school I ran 100M and 200M hurdles (hard to believe since I'm not that tall). I joined the cross country team when it was started during my junior year to stay in shape for track season. While in HS I never thought of myself as a long distance runner. Getting up to 6 miles while training for CC hurt and I invariably developed  what I now know is iliotibial band issues. I started back to running in grad school to get in shape for a spring break ski trip to Jackson Hole WY (awesome skiing!). I continued to run & joined a fun running group (Hash House Harriers) with some members who ran longer distances so I started running longer. And on my second attempt, I completed a 10 mile race! The first attempt was a struggle - and many people had trouble that day - it was in the upper 70s F the first weekend of April in Madison WI. No one was ready for those temps!

After grad school I moved to Philadelphia and continued to run and run longer. Finishing my first half marathon was definitely an emotional experience. After moving to Washington DC I decided to run a marathon and completed my first one in 1996 in 4hr 20 min (still a PR). I continued running, racing, and having fun doing it and have run 7 marathons. Then a fractured cheek bone and life got in the way. From 2004 till this year, I continued to run but no where at the levels I was running before.

Last year my friend Rick and his wife Jennifer became race directors and have been putting on trail races in NJ. Check them out at This has been a great thing for NJ and for me. Despite all the state and county parks in NJ there aren't many trail races and the few that are here are at the ultra distance (anything longer than a marathon (26.2 miles) is considered an ultra-marathon). So to support their endeavors, plus I love running in the woods, I started running their races. What's nice about many of the NJ Trail Series races is that they are doable for almost anyone since they often have races of a variety of distances - from 5 km to 100 miles and races that are for a certain lenght of time (3 hrs up to 48 hrs!). So I've been racing more - and sometimes training more - and this year I finally have run the most I've run since probably 2004.

This year I volunteered for the Maylon Mayhen which had races of 25km, 50km, 75Km, and 100Km. Rick let me run the 25Km (15.5 miles) race for helping out. The course (near Sparta NJ) is great - hills, rocks, some flats, all in the woods. And definitely wild life. Several of us had to wait several minutes for a momma black bear to reunite with one of her cubs before we could continue on the trail. This was my longest distance run since 2004 and I finished it in about 4 hours. Not too bad for pretty much no training (a few weeks before I did run/walk 18 miles between 2 days of running). It definitely hurt but I enjoyed it and had fun hanging out afterwards, helping out where needed, and meeting some interesting people who run ultras. My friend Jessi (ultra-woman  extraordinaire) ended up running 75 km, and Dave was just one 12.5km loop shy of running 100 km! 87.5 miles in 12 hrs is a great accomplishment

When I was running marathons, I toyed with the idea of trying an ultra-marathon. But at the time, running marathons hurt (don't they always?). And I was loosing my motivation for training - though I was still running and racing. My training for my last marathon included weekly running with the Hash House Harriers, track work with the Northern Virginia Track Club, some other running (as well as weights & biking) and racing. A few weeks before my last marathon in 2003 I decided that I better get some training done if I'm going to run the distance! So on a Thursday night I ran about 9 miles and a week later I ran what would be my sole long run. I set out planning on running the Mt vernon Trail to Alexandria, or perhaps the W&OD trail west. But since the Marine corps Marathon was that day I figured I'd run near the marathon and cheer on my fellow runners and friends. I ran into Jeff Reed on the sidelines of the marathon and told him what I was doing. A few years before, Jeff told me that training was over-rated. This is coming from a man who runs 50 mile races in the mountains of Virginia! But I kind of knew what he was talking about - if you are running and racing all the time you don't necessarily need to train, ie. have a schedule of training runs and dedicated speed work, etc., since you are already running all the time. And this is what I was doing for my last marathon. I figured if I could go out and run for 2.5 hrs I'd be able to complete the marathon. And I did! At the start I ran into Duane who commented that he hardly trained - only running a couple of 18 milers. I chuckled under my breath considering my training! The marathon went well. I hung with Duane for the first 20 miles - with a medical tent stop at mile 6 to get a blister taken care of. At mile 20, Duane started to struggle so I continued on. I was surprised how well I felt. I ended up finishing in 5hr 3 min - not my worst time!

So what does that little side story have anything to do with my current running? Well after running 15.5 miles for the first time in 7 years, I decided at the last minute to participate in a 12hr race at the Parsippany Hills High School track; it was held just 2 weeks after the Maylon Mahem and my 25 Km run. The forcast was 95 F and sunny (the forecast was spot on making for a hot day). I had 2 goals that day: first was to run 16 miles since this would then be my longest run this year and the second was to run 27 miles and finally complete and ultra race. Though I should put run in quotes for that 27 miler. I was able to accomplish both goals. I ran almost all of the first 16 miles (goal 1 accomplished!) and continued running/walking for the next several miles. At about mile 20 I took a long break - about an hour. This is the beauty of these time races is that you can run as long and as often as you want. And if you aren't going to come close to winning you are really competing against yourself and your goals. So since I surpassed my first goal and still had plenty of hours to complete another 7 miles, a long break was ok and definitely necessary. For most of the last 7 miles I pretty much walked. I was in pain and it was hot and I knew that I had plenty of time to complete 7 miles. And I did it! I finally accomplished one of my running goals of running an ultra-marathon. It took me 11 hrs (this is including that 1hr break) but I still did it!

But.... I'd really like to be able to run most of an ultra-marathon. So now I'm thinking of running a 50Km race in March - again sponsored by the NJ Trail Series. I hear it's pretty flat so it shouldn't be as difficult. And because it's in the woods and there will be a lot of people it won't be anywhere as monotonous as running on a 400m track for 11 hrs!  

So I better get some running in! Hope to see you on the trails!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Drug resistance and the need for good writing

There's an interesting article published in Science: "Permissive Secondary Mutations Enable the Evolution of Influenza Oseltamivir Resistance" (Science 328:1272, 2010). Oseltamivir is the flu antiviral drug that is also known as Tamiflu. What's interesting about this article is that the resistance to Tamiflu partly became prevalent in the seasonal H1N1 influenza strain because two other mutations allowed the Tamiflu-resistant virus to effectively infect cells. A lot of times, antiviral mutations often make the viruses less potent. The drugs target an important enzyme for the virus and the mutations need to occur at the site in the enzyme that interacts with the drug for resistance to develop - and this is often the same site that the enzyme needs to function properly - and hence the mutations will make the enzyme not work as well. Even more interesting is that the resistance to Tamiflu came about in the absence of widespread use of the drug and therefore there was little selection for drug-resistant viruses.

Now this is a bit more scientific than what I have written here; what brought this post about is a statement in an accompanying article in the same issue of Science. Science will often solicit short reviews (called Perspectives) of papers published in this journal. The reviews are written so that a wider audience can understand and appreciate the research published in the journal. And these reviews are often very well written. I have even used them in my classes to give students a view of research that is on-going on the topics they are studying in class.

But what was puzzling was this statement in the accompanying review to the paper above: "More puzzling, drug resistance can occur in the absence of the main agent of selection". This is a common misperception of a lot of people - and surprising to be written by a prof at Penn State. Mutations occur all the time – and agents of selection (antivirals and antibiotics) don’t cause mutations – but SELECT the mutants that have arisen! This is how drug resistance in viruses occurs - first there is the mutation and then in the presence of the antiviral (which is killing all the non-resistant viruses) the resistant virus becomes the predominant virus. I think the point that the author was trying to make was the fact that the antiviral resistant virus has become the predominant virus in the absence of drug selection. But this isn't what was stated in the sentence above - the author did come around to his conclusion - but he did so after making an erroneous statement. 

Now a few people might think - so what? Well I have a little pet peeve about good writing and proper grammar (heck I've gone through my previously published blog posts and corrected myself!). I tell my students that using the correct words (I work with a lot of undergrads) and speaking and writing clearly are the only way to make sure people understand what you are talking (or writing) about. And this is a good example of how - what looks like a well written sentence - is actually wrong information!

Just my 2 cents. :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


So I used to bake fairly regularly - at least when I had roommates who could share in the eating - or I would be invited to pot-lucks for school or with friends. I have such a sweet tooth that I would eat all the cookies/cake, etc. if I could. So one of my friends told me about this food blog: Not So Humble Pie (NSHP), that I occasionally check out. NSHP makes some delicious sounding desserts and takes wonderful pictures to show her work. Today I decided to check out her blog and came across a recipe for chocolate mousse: The mousse looks and sounds delicious, especially with the hazelnut liqueur. Luckily I don't have a candy thermometer - which means that I won't be tempted to make and eat all the mousse. Plus it is 100 F here in NJ so doing any sort of baking or cooking would be insane! But there are days when my sweet tooth gets the better of me - and I resort to buying a cookie - which never tastes as good as home made.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A new cat

I was trying to see how easy it is to add pictures to my blog - and it was quite easy! This little fellow (actually I think it is a girl cat), showed up on my friends' porch while I was house and cat sitting (they have a 15 yr old male cat, Alvin, that can be affectionate). She checked out the porch and even hopped up on my lap! Adorable! She even tried to get into the house when I went to get my camera.

After I left, the cat came to the porch on a regular basis. My friends decided to adopt her after they weren't able to find the owner. She's a little cat so they thought she was a kitten but she has her adult teeth and is likely 2-3 years old. They named her Allison Catherine (Alley Cat). She's settled into the house but I hear Alvin is taking his time getting used to the new addition to the family.

Over the years I've thought about adopting a cat. My allergies to cats have pretty much disappeared (may be I should look into how allergies change over time - I had allergies all my life. They got worse when I was in grad school & disappeared 10 yrs later!) so I can have a cat, but I've never really had pets growing up. And I worry about the cost of a cat & what the cat might do when I'm not at home (I sometimes work quite long hours during the semester). And do I really need to add cat hair to my hair that I already have to vacuum?!? My poor vacuum cleaner!

I get to visit Alley and Alvin next weekend when I head to the shore. I'll be participating in a kazoo band in the Ocean Grove parade - should be interesting!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

toxins in sperm whales

Toxins found in whales bode ill for humans

This is based on a news piece I read in Yahoo news (toxins&whales). I'm not sure why is this such a shock. It is well known that animals & fish that feed on other species of animals will accumulate the toxins that their prey have eaten. And as you go further up the food chain the toxins accumulate to higher concentrations (it was noted that sperm whales eat sharks!). This is why pregnant women, children & other susceptible groups shouldn't eat salmon, mahi mahi and similar fish. See: for information about this (I tried to find the information at the USDA or EPA websites but found it difficult to do so). And given the fact that ocean currents will carry waste & debris from one end of the earth to another (see: it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that Artic whales have high levels of toxins.

I also think an explanation of one of the statements by Roger Payne, who headed the study, is needed:
"the concentration of chromium found in whales was several times higher than the level required to kill healthy cells in a Petri dish"

Sometimes you can't make the jump from what is observed in animals to what you would expect to observe in cells in culture. Healthy cells in Petri dishes aren't normal cells; although scientists use them as if they are to do their experiments. These are cells that have been transformed (changed) to become immortal so that scientists have time to do their research (normal cells from humans or other mammalian species have a limited life span in culture). To become immortal the cells have acquired mutations or have oncogenes (cancer causing genes) inserted into their genomes - many of the changes that are associated with immortalization are not known and there may be other mutations that may not be related to immortalization but will contribute to how the cells act in culture.

Take home message: (1) don't take science news articles at face value - the reporters writing these articles often don't have the background to ask the right questions or see the 'big picture'; and (2) take care in choosing the foods you eat. I have found the book, "What to Eat" by Marion Nestle to be quite informative. She also has additional information at her website

A start

So I've finally decided to start a blog. I've posted links and comments to Facebook about a variety of topics and the ones that garner the most interest are those related to exercise, nutrition, vaccines, etc. And friends have suggested I start a blog (I guess they think my thoughts are insightful enough). I'm also a member of Sigma Delta Epsilon/Graduate Women in Science (check us out at* and we are trying to reach out to more people via Facebook, LinkedIn, as well as other social media - including this blog.

So check back soon. I hope to have a new post in which I actually discuss something!

*I'll also figure out how to make hyperlinks!