Parkinson’s is largely a disease affecting folks over 60, so I am always a bit startled when I come across young people involved in some way with Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative diseases. I was looking up something else on the excellent website for Michael J. Fox Foundation, and stumbled across a blog post about a fundraiser for Parkinson’s. The event? A pancake breakfast, of all things. (“Pancakes for Parkinson’s – catchy, huh?) And who is organizing the event? The Undergraduate Neuroscience Organization at University of Georgia. Golly — neuroscience hadn’t even been invented when I went to college! Keep those pancakes flipping, guys!
I have hope in our youth not only from a fund raising perspective, but also as future researchers. A few weeks back, I wrote a blog post bemoaning my lack of basic biology knowledge. Quite unexpectedly, I got a response from a distant cousin, Michael Kneeshaw, who is about to graduate with a degree in Cell and Molecular Biology and a minor in Chemistry. Despite being an undergraduate, he is already doing research in Alzheimer’s. He responded to some of my questions, and added this understatement, “Setting a good foundation to explain complex mechanisms is difficult.”
Yep, explaining sure is difficult, so all the more impressive when a future researcher not only understands the concepts but can explain them clearly. Michael added, “Once you get past the vocab and terrible abbreviations (no one really knows all of them nor should they) the interactions and effects really start to make sense.”
Here are some questions from my last blog post and Michael’s explanations:
Q: What is relationship between genes and proteins? How do cells, genes, proteins differ? And work together?
A: In each cell you have chromosomes, they make up the genome (which is just a word referring to all genes). In your genome you have genes, each gene can code for mRNA which is translated into proteins. So genes and proteins are very similar, however your body regulates genes very closely but not proteins. Genes can be turned off or on to regulate protein production. (Keep in mind some genes will code for active proteins in the cells, while others code for regulatory proteins that regulate genes based on their protein counterpart levels.)
Q: Genetic mutations….are these common? Are they just a variation, or does “mutation” always mean “bad news”?
A: 99.99% of mutations in DNA are corrected when the cell is replicating DNA before it splits into two new cells. However, once the cell splits with an error, this is now a mutation because the new cell will not consider it a mutation and will replicate this deviation as it forms into more cells. Most of the time these mutations don’t even affect the cell; mutation may still code for the same exact protein.
Mutation technically could increase cell function, but for the most part, the mutated gene will create a protein that is slightly different but doesn’t work at all or as well as the original protein.
Thank you, Michael, for the explanations. Michael concludes with this cell-biology-in-a-nutshell comment: “Every single protein and substance in the cell has a balance and a threshold it can stay in. When these levels cannot be regulated, a cell is sick.”