December 7, 2012

Fish Out Of Water

Did you ever wander, by accident, into an advanced class in high school or college by accident? What one usually does just minutes after class begins is gather your belongings and sheepishly move toward the exits, apologizing for each person whose lap you have to cross, nodding an embarrassed apology to the teacher or professor. I was not allowed to do that on the first day of the Conference of Rat Genomics and Models. I, instead, had to sit and listen to PhD’s, professors and doctoral candidates, all versed in their own language and jargon specific to their niche field of study, present individual findings of their rat specific research. I have remarked that I believe that language is Greek. At least, it’s Greek to me.

I think I mentioned something about a baptism by fire in my last blog entry. Forget fire. This was an inferno. Thankfully, I pick things up on the fly. As I was encouraged by one of the doctoral candidates just last evening, I needed to “fake it ‘til I make it.”

And about last evening…

What is one to do with their evening when they are attending a conference on genetics in Cambridge? Well, you go to The Eagle, of course. That’s right, I crashed a pub with about 30 other geneticists where James Watson and Francis Crick sat and mapped out the double-helixed DNA model. Dork that I am, I was very excited that my trip was now combining history with my science.

Above a table, with a dedicated spotlight, was a brass plaque that commemorated the historic scientific event. How amazing that our general understanding of genetic science was birthed in a pub that has been in existence since the 15th century!

Of course, fun as it was, I was cognizant that I was working. I made certain, while throwing down a pint or three, to pay attention to the conversations around me. I asked pertinent questions like, “What is an eQTL?” By the way, it’s a Quantitative Trait Loci. So yeah, I learned that.

As the conference has progressed, I’ve found that, while I am still a newb to this community, I’m really enjoying learning about the several different approaches that the rat and its still minimally explored genome have provided for human-specific application.

There have been presentations that have addressed genes that regulate aggressivity and that allow for domestication of rats. I’ll be writing an article for the main site very soon that will address a study that began back in 1959 in Soviet Russia that still continues today, with an offshoot being performed at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. Other presentations addressed serotonin levels in the rat and its association with depression and PTSD. Still others showed research being done to try to recognize a genetic susceptibility for elevated blood pressure and myocardial infarction. And as I write this, the afternoon presentations are addressing the mapping and phenotyping of resistance alleles to tumor creation.

I won’t lie and say my eyes haven’t crossed on more than one occasion. I won’t lie and say I didn’t come down with a splitting headache yesterday just before lunch. I won’t lie and say I don’t feel like a fish out of water. But I have made acquaintance with a few individuals who have been patient enough to speak slowly, clearly and in mostly plain English. For someone whose last interaction with genetics was in high school and dealt mainly and elementarily with Mendel’s pea plants, I have really enjoyed myself and have been fascinated by the passion each of these scientists have brought, not only to their presentations but, quite obviously, to their work in this field.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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