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About AIDS and Science

Previous Entry AIDS and Science Oct. 2nd, 2009 @ 10:16 am Next Entry
Hey there Livejournal Land!

I wanted to come in and say a few things... all will become clear why presently.

1. Grad school is amazing. Coming here is far and away one of the best decisions I ever made -- perhaps the very best. I am totally stimulated and fulfilled. Of course there's a lot I miss about New York, but there are also a few things I'm really glad to be away from. I also just recently had one of the best birthdays within recent memory, and it happened far away from my family, friends, and even most of the new friends I've made since coming to the midwest. It's all about the brand new experiences, right? This was quite a leap, as I've said, running off into the unknown in a 10-foot truck by myself. I wanted to do it that way, and so far, it's worked out better than I could have hoped.

This is the little quad between the J-school buildings. I was leaning against a tree with my shoes off, reading, when I took this picture. I take none of this for granted.

2. Grad school is, apparently, a lot of work. No one explained this to me before I came; consequently, I have no time for side projects like creating a new blog, finishing sewing that skirt I've been working on forever, or eating food. Hence, no "hey here's my new blog" post. Yet.

This was taken during my very first Mizzou home game. Go Tigers! As you can see, I was more interested in staring fixedly at the bleachers like a jackass than watching the game. The sign on the bleachers says "DO NOT STAND ON THE BLEACHERS." (Everyone was standing on the bleachers. Renegades!)

3. Grad school being so busy, my AIDSWalk fundraising has taken a bit of a backseat. I've managed to head up a fundraising campaign, but haven't actually been able to do any fundraising myself. Supersnack's big annual event is this weekend -- tomorrow, actually -- and I appear to be $500 off my goal. If I reach the goal, I'm going to wear an evening gown to the walk (in place of my usual t-shirt/pants/sneakers) and YOU KNOW THERE WILL BE PICTURES. Can you help? (Would you rather help Greta? She still gets pineapple for every donation.) So really, I'm here to throw myself on your mercy. Do you hate or love AIDS? Do you hate or love watching me do dumb things like dress in formal wear at 8 in the morning? Do you hate or love making bunnies happy? Vote with your wallet.

4. We're walking in DC because the new infection rate there is higher than some parts of Africa -- estimates show 3% of the population is infected. That's three times more that the 1% needed for a disease to be considered an epidemic. Help is needed, in the form of mighty cash dollars.

In exchange for your kindness in considering donating, below is something I wrote after attending a biotechnology seminar. (IT WAS FUN!) (NO SERIOUSLY!) (OKAY ACTUALLY A LOT OF IT WAS BORING BUT HAVING GONE TO IT GIVES ME A CHANCE TO WIN A TRIP TO ROME SO WHATEVER!)

And if you want to see what else I've been up to since I arrived, here's a link to my bylines -- most of the stories are just straight up news, because everyone has to do a stint as a news reporter. I did write an article about DonorsChoose.org, though.

Did you know that some parts of the midwest look like this? Well, they do.


So, I attended this biotechnology seminar.

Try the veal! Tip your waitstaff!

Okay wait, come back. I know a biotechnology seminar sounds horribly snore-rificzzzzzzzzz. There are things, you are thinking, many things, scads and hordes of things, you would rather do than attend (or, heavens forfend, read about) a seminar on biotechnology, and those things include: eating mayonnaise straight out of the jar with a spoon; having dinner with Karl Rove or Michael Moore as-the-case-may-be; listening to Fran Drescher sing "Cosi Fan Tutte." I'm with you; I concocted a similar list. Mine also included dripping water all over the bathroom floor after exiting the shower, but that's my struggle.

But! Just take a look at some of the fun things I accomplished during the biotechnology seminar:

1. Climbed inside the tire well of a tractor wheel
2. Taste-tested raw soybeans with a farmer
3. Framed photos of many-toothed farm equipment to try and make the tractors and what-not look as threatening as possible
1. Extracted DNA from a banana

And here is what I learned:

1. I can fit entirely inside a tractor wheel well!
2. Raw soybeans are gross!
3. Climbing on farm equipment, while imagining it to be your sworn enemy, is very entertaining!
4. Banana DNA looks and feels like snot!

Graduate study is so enlightening.

Look at this! Sworn enemy!!! MONSTERRRRRRR!!!! Okay, no. Clearly not. That's just the ravings of a doofus city-dweller visiting her first farm and seeing her first grain chute. GRAIN CHUUUUUUUUUUUTE!

The banana DNA experiment was rad, and it's one you can recreate in your home, if you are slightly bored and there are no reruns of Top Model on.

Hypothesis: DNA is inside of most stuff, and by mashing together some common household objects, you can get the DNA out and take a look at it. Perhaps hold it in your hand. If you are feeling particularly intrepid, even sniff or lick it.


1. Mix together some shampoo and water and put about 6 tablespoons in a little plastic cup. Soap dissolves lipids, which, if you will hearken back to the days of high school biology class, is what cell membranes are made of. I for one do not actually remember high school biology, except that my teacher, Mr. Peters, spoke in a "Bueller... Bueller..."-esque monotone, and whenever kids would act up, he would mumble "Cease. Desist." in this really listless, bored voice. It was not, you can imagine, all that effective a deterrent in the minds of excitable 15-year-olds. Anyway, where were we! Oh right: once the soap dissolves your banana's cell membranes, it allows you to get right at that delicious banana DNA. (I mean, I am assuming banana DNA is delicious, because, you know, bananas are delicious.)

2. Put a pinch of salt in your shampoo/water and stir slowly with a wooden stick until the salt is dissolved. The salt's function is to reverse the charge of the ions. How do science people know this stuff? Anyway, the purpose is so that the lipids and DNA will be like charges, and thus they will separate and repel and steal each other's boyfriends and talk shit about all their other friends (like those whores the nucleic acids who by the way are totally sleeping with half the football team).

3. Blend banana and water in a blender. Put two teaspoonfuls of banana smoothie in the shampoo/water/salt mixture. Stir slowly. You will want to drink the remaining banana/water that you have not added to the shampoo. Go right ahead and do that. It is probably delicious. I didn't try to drink it, myself, but that is only because we were conducting a Serious Scientific Experiment and I didn't want it to appear like I was devaluing the process.

4. Get another little plastic cup and put a small coffee filter inside it, folding the edge of the filter over the lip of the cup. Try not to let the filter touch the bottom of the cup. There is no scientific explanation for this; I think it just isn't done in polite society.

5. Pour the banana/shampoo mixture into the filter and wait. Do not poke at the filter with your wooden stick. This was an instruction from the scientist, not one of my hilarious make-em-ups. If you poke at the filter with your stick, you will have ruined everything and you will have to start over and then Professor Snape will give you a D and possibly detention.

6. I really believed I had grown out of inserting Harry Potter jokes into my writing, but apparently not. Sigh. By the way this is not one of the steps of the scientific experiment.

7. So anyway, now you've got this cup and a filter. There'll be banana glop, cell membranes, shampoo, salt, and god knows what all else, just accruing in a malicious little puddle on top of your filter. Meanwhile, water and DNA will be dripping through the filter and collecting at the bottom of the cup. It's this DNA water that you're interested in. (Yes, you are!) Just sit there quietly and check out your new DNA water and think about whether or not banana still tastes like banana when its DNA has been removed. Whatever you do, do not actually voice this question aloud to any of the science people, because you will sound like a moron.

8. DNA, just FYI, is soluble (a.k.a. invisible) in water. But it is not soluble in ethanol... FORESHADOWING!

9. Grab a test tube filled with ice-cold ethanol from the stacks of test tubes filled with ice-cold ethanol that you have lying around.

10. Use a pipette to suck up some of the water/DNA from the bottom of cup #2. You can now discard your coffee filter containing the banana cell membranes, shampoo and salt mixture. Unless, you know, you want to save it for later to make tea with. Or throw at people to freak them out. "Never mind the bullocks here's the banana membranes" might be one good thing to yell if you choose to throw it at someone. Not that I am advocating you do something so childish. (Another possibility for what to yell: "Are you there God, it's me, banana membranes.")

11. Drip the DNA water slowly into your ice-cold ethanol, and -- this is very important -- resist the urge to stir or shake the test tube. Now that I've told you this, you are going to want like hell to shake it, but you must resist. For science.

12. Put the cap on your test tube and wait. Think about, out of the nearly infinite list of things you might do with your Friday evening, whether you ever realized "anxiously anticipating seeing a banana's DNA" would make that list.

13. Okay, but now is when things are starting to get pretty awesome. If you look in your test tube, you can see the DNA -- which actually looks very pretty -- precipitating and separating from the ethanol. It looks like little glisten-y bubbles, suspended in the middle of the test tube, swirling slowly. Sort of snow-globe-like, actually. (DON'T SHAKE IT!)

14. Take your wooden stick and insert it into the test tube. Twirl the stick around to collect the strands of DNA. This probably sounds like another thing I invented, but it's actually what happens. You start collecting little slimy DNA strands on your stick. If you are very talented, you can lift out all the DNA (it's in one long strand, actually) and have it clinging all drippy and gross at the end of your wooden stick.

15. Feel the DNA. Smell the DNA. Eat the DNA. I mean, not now, but the next time you eat a banana, remember that that stuff's all up in there. Pretty gross, right? Congratulations! You are now finished extracting DNA from a banana, and you have even gained a new neurosis: imagining this substance, which resembles mucus, lurking inside all of your food!

Conclusion: Science is gross.

(But it might cure AIDS.)
[User Picture Icon]
Date:October 2nd, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC)
You know I'm a sucker for the bunny plea every time - Donation has been sent!

Love the banana-DNA story, and glad to count you with us in the Midwest! (Watch out for the cut-down cornstalks, should you need to pee in a field in the dark sometime this winter. Just sayin'. It's a Bad Thing.)
[User Picture Icon]
Date:October 2nd, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I will ask my roommate to kick her some extra pineapple today. :)

I am digging the midwest very much by the way!
[User Picture Icon]
Date:October 2nd, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC)
Glad you are settled in there in Columbia. I've walked that area in front of the J-School a few times watching family graduate from said school.

[User Picture Icon]
Date:October 2nd, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
Glad you're alive and well. I was thinking you were probably too busy to post.

... And I envy you. At least for now, while grad school is something I am considering, but have not quite applied for yet.
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