Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bioscience update

Life goes on at Lola Towers, much the same as ever. I journey forth each weekday, intent on absorbing yet another dose of Bioscience, and often I am rewarded with fascinating information from articulate lecturers.

Sometimes it's difficult to see the relevance to nutrition and dietetics. Today we were treated to a couple of hours about the different factors released from embryonic precursor cells which determine their fate as cardiac or nerve cells, and last week it was muscle cells. Very interesting, even though I'm not sure what it's going to be useful for. In Psychology/Sociology, we talked about the research evidence on social class as a determinant for diet choices - again, interesting in itself, but requires care when applying the principles to dietetic practice.

On Monday we had one of only two practical sessions this term, and it was rather fun. Cleverly, the lecturers are awarding the majority of marks for accuracy and technique, which meant that we couldn't get away with our usual sloppy attitude to pipettes and test tubes. We were given five different unidentified samples containing carbohydrates, and our mission (should we choose to accept it) was to apply various enzymes and determine which was which. If incubating a sample with lactase produced a positive result when tested for glucose, then that sample was likely to be lactose*, and so on.

Immunology continues to be a disaster area. The lecturer presents us with screens full of detail: genes, proteins, complexes, incomprehensible acronyms and abbreviations, and hardly ever takes a step back to outline the big picture. It's as if someone is trying to explain the workings of the internal combustion engine by talking about the fuel/air mix, the voltage in the HT leads and the pressure profile in the piston, rather than saying what these components are actually for and how they contribute to the function of the whole engine.

There's quite a lot of coursework this term, including a multiple choice test about metabolism in the fed, fasted and starved states, and metabolism during exercise - it's all about how your body switches between storing and using carbohydrate and fat. Unfortunately, I haven't found a shortcut to losing pounds of flab while continuing to gorge on chocolate, so I'll have to carry on with the alcohol/sugar restriction technique. I can't tell you how I'm getting on, not because it's classified information, but rather because I don't have any scales, and it's hard to tell whether my clothes are looser or not. On balance, I think they might be.

The GMO module coursework was set last week, and involves choosing one out of six academic research papers in the general field of genetic modification, and then writing a critique of it, explaining what the research was about and what it found and how that might fit into the bigger picture. It's going to be an interesting project, given that I read the three papers that looked the most interesting and hardly understood a word. I've picked one about the production of a vaccine against Hepatitis B virus that has been engineered into potato so it can be taken orally rather than injected.

Endocrinology is another mystery - the secretions of the anterior and posterior pituitary gland are interesting but not obviously relevant, and I'm not sure why we had two lectures on calcium when that's not really a hormone - or is it? These lectures end at 5 p.m. on a Friday as well, leaving me with the worst possible motorway journey home.

I still love it. I talked to two people about research and PhD's this week.

White-flowering trailing plant in garden
* Lactose is a disaccharide comprising one molecule each of the monosaccharides glucose and galactose. People who are 'lactose intolerant' usually have something wrong with their lactase enzyme, so they can't digest lactose and break it into its constituent parts. For example, people in cultures that historically don't consume milk-based products, like Japan, have no need for lactase, so many people stop making it after being weaned.


aims said...

The Man is lactose intolerant.

Combine that with me being a celiac - and well. Meals are - um - different.

You thinking of doing research when you graduate? That's fantastic! And getting your Phd?

Oh Lola! That really is exciting!

Good for you!

Lola II said...

PhD? Dr Lola? I can't wait!