I've gone home for the weekend and have finally found the time to write something here. This semester's been hard, much harder than the other two here. Science and math classes can be really time-intensive, so even if the material itself isn't hard, if it takes a few hours to do it, those few hours are going to be bumping shoulders with the time it takes to finish other homework. Result: very late nights if you don't time manage.
For example, our first lab report was due in IB 270. The lab, analyzing the relationship between two phenotypes in C. elegans, seemed like it would have a straightforward and simple lab report. My group took copious notes in our lab notebooks and the lab report rubric didn't seem too bad. BUT: it took time. A lot of it. I realized this at 4am Friday morning, when I took a quick break from writing to finish (ok... start) my orgo problem set due in five hours. How'd this happen?!
At no point that week had I purposely put off doing homework. I was busy doing other work, but the work was always just what was due the next day. There's this thing called "planning ahead" that you need to learn when you come to college, and if you don't do that, sleep deprivation awaits if you want to get any sort of decent grades.
I'm not trying to scare anybody thinking about IB Honors. Read the rest of this post if you want to get excited about it, because I'm really happy here. It's just a lot of work. You need to be really driven to get through math through calc III and organic chemistry in addition to tough bio classes. Physics, biochem, and statistics are probably going to be tough too. But the thing is: everyone in IBH is going through this. That night I was up late writing the lab report, I joked around a lot with the other students there and we had Jimmy John's together, making light of the situation. We're all stressed. We're all trying our best. You really bond after something like that.
Academics aside, let's get to the dorky intellectual stuff... I'm so happy! I'm realizing that one of my favorite parts of IB 270 is reading scientific articles every week. This week's article was "Massive Horizontal Gene Transfer in Bdelloid Rotifers," by some people at Harvard and the Marine Bio Lab in Woods Hole, MA. Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is where a change in the genome occurs during an organism's lifetime, as opposed to vertical gene transfer, where two parents produce an offspring with a different genome. HGT is very common in bacteria but very rare in animals. In this one type of animal, the rotifer, though, the team found dozens of genes from bacteria, plants, and fungi. How could this have possibly happened? The article goes into detail about where they found the genes and how they could have gotten there; they use the same BLAST procedure that my lab group did to compare genes in different species (more on that later!) and analyzed where in the genome these foreign genes were.
I absolutely love reading stuff like this because it's so new that it's not even in the textbooks yet. I've realized that a lot of textbooks can be thorough but not very deep. They can cover a lot of material at a certain level of depth but they have to compromise that depth to cover everything they need to cover. A research article, on the other hand, is the equivalent of a paragraph of the textbook gone into incredible detail; basically, that paragraph is expanded into a few pages. Very cool.
So, back to the BLAST thing I mentioned. BLAST is a button you press on a website after specifying a nucleotide/protein/etc. sequence that you want to find similarities for. Normally this sequence you have corresponds to something in an organism, and you're trying to find related genes in other organisms. My lab group did this for our Discovery Project (I think I talk about the Discovery Project in detail two posts ago; check it out). We wanted to analyze olfaction and chemotaxis in C. elegans: ideally, knocking out a gene related to olfaction would result in a loss of chemotaxis. We found a gene in mice that, when knocked out, resulted in impaired olfaction. We BLASTed that gene and lo and behold, a near identical gene is present in C. elegans! We looked into a few articles on it, and nobody's done our exact experiment yet. Our semester project has been formed!
Anyway, on to other subjects. Orgo and calculus are hard but I'm managing. In my PSYC 433 class, we watched this amazing National Geographic special on Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford who works with baboons in Kenya. In the video, a comparison was made between his findings of stress levels in the baboons and the results of a correlational study conducted in England on stress levels in workers in particular businesses. Baboons make a good comparison because they spend only 3 hours a day on food; the other 9 are entirely social behavior. Baboon groups have strong hierarchies, and the study found that as you descend from the top, your stress levels keep increasing. Interestingly, the same result was found with the people working in the hierarchial businesses in England. The special then went into detail on the health effects of stress, how to manage it, why zebras don't get ulcers (that's the name, actually, of one of Sapolsky's books), and more, all intertwined with beautiful views of the savannah. Awesome.
I hope this thing hasn't dragged on too long. I'm going to eat some cereal and get started on orgo reading, which never ends... but at least it's good to be home :-)
IBH students travel the world, publish research papers, and do all sorts of amazing things