Tuesday, July 31, 2012

This is why ... shit is cool.

for those of you who don't know, the PhD that I am currently engaged with is on the gene regulatory networks that form between host and pathogen. Basically how two organisms interact down at the genetic level. Which, while the day to day operations can be a bit hum drum (especially if there are large morning teas with meringues and cakes that make me stop thinking for a day) is absurdly cool. Part of why I think this is fascinating is that this interaction between different organisms happens almost everywhere. A lot of it is symbiotic rather than pathogenic - there's whole systems in your body which are reliant on the ecosystem of bacteria that are living in your gut. So if we want to figure out how we or the plants and animals around us work, we have to understand how the micro-organisms work as well. And more specifically how they interact with whatever organism it is that they are attached to.
In the interactions that we know about, there are a sufficient number of components involved that the complexity of the system as a whole is ... absurd. The amount of data is ... absurd. And I get to dive in to all that data like Scrooge McDuck in his money tank and try and find patterns in it. Then to make it better, we just keep finding more ways in which we interact with micro-organisms. Like this study from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Maryland. We've know for ages about the gut flora and their interactions. We're years away from understanding it all. And now we find that the micro-organisms on the skin (of which there are many) are playing a role in the regulation of our immune systems. The skin has long been known as one of the primary lines of defence in our immune system (stop, think about it, it makes sense really). To find that there's a whole system of communication between our skin and the micro-organisms that live on it that aids in the regulation of of the immune system is, that word once more, absurdly cool.

The skin’s secret surveillance system : Nature News & Comment

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