The future of (human) cloning: dangerous or a blessing?

Hello everyone,

Another week has passed, so it’s time for a new blog!
Today I want to cover something different than fluorescence. Early this morning I had to do some labwork regarding cloning experiments (actually I have to do this kind of labwork more or less everyday) and it got me thinking. I had to clone (technical definition: a cell, cell product, or organism that is genetically identical to the unit or individual from which it was derived or a population of identical units, cells, or individuals that derive from the same ancestral line) some DNA of my fluorescent proteins in bacteria (E. Coli) and I started wondering off in a more phylosophical way. What would happen if people would actually be allowed to be cloned? or maybe just parts of the human body? For example wouldn’t it be great to replace damaged organs or tissues by genetically exactly the same  organs and tissues in your body or even a little bit modified so this certain medical issue won’t be a problem anymore or should we stay away from playing god in the first place? The big question, if allowed: where does it end? Who draws the line and why there? Will we create “super” humans after a while? what about the need of diversity? A quick search on google ended up most of the times in an article or debate about the ethics regarding this topic (f.e.: http://news.discovery.com/human/genetics/could-humans-be-cloned-130520.htm)  

I’d like to ask your opinion about this matter in a more open blog this week. Maybe we can have a ‘respectful’ discussion regarding this topic gaining a few insights from one another, so please don’t hesitate to write your thoughts about this!

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The human body as a coloring book for surgery?

Hello everyone!

This week, I had a bit of trouble finding anything suitable to post as I lacked a little inspiration, however then it hit me, TED talks!
TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is an annual conference consisting of various speakers which bring up various topics and shed an (interesting: I’ll let you decide) light/opinion regarding this topic.
So I browsed youtube and typed in “Ted talks and Fluorescence” .I got the following result: 

Roughly summarized this video explains us how surgeons can you use fluorescence to mark or “color” our body so they can enhance their vision for incisions in their surgeries.

While medicine students have a long studying career ahead of them with all sorts of graphical textbooks preparing them to practice medicine and perform surgeries. The textbooks (usually illustrated with colored drawings as the figure of a heart below demonstrates) still differ (alot) from the real human body where almost all tissues look like a color pallete of red. Relations_of_the_aorta,_trachea,_esophagus_and_other_heart_structures

The woman in the video above discusses that even veteran surgeons sometimes have problems distinguishing cancer tissue from “healthy” tissue while incizing. This can create problems as biopsies (tissue taken from the human body for further examination) from surrounding tissue have to be performed to be certain all the cancerous tissue has been removed. This is time consuming and can cause extra surgeries if not everything was removed in the first place.
Wouldn’t it be better if you could somehow make the cancerous tissue visible and separable from all the other tissue? Well this woman and her team have found a solution to this problem. They created tissuemarkers based on fluorescence to color specific tissues in our body. Depending on the tissuemarker’s composition they will “stick” to specific tissue (mostly cancerous tissue) so surgeons can “easily” remove this tissue. They can even color other tissue and organs such as nerves with an other fluorescent color to prevent wrong incisions basically creating a color book of your body! How cool is that?

However, while I think this technique of surgery is quite interesting to say the least, she doesn’t mention anything about disadvantages or side effects.
Since the TED talk dates back from 2011 and this video is the first thing I have ever seen from this technique myself, I wonder why this hasn’t broken through yet in our medicine world and if the side effects still have too much impact to put this fluorescence coloring of the human body to work.

Any thoughts about this blog? Feel free to comment!

See you guys, next week!

First blog of the new year! Let’s talk about some details.

Okey, first blog of the year and I must admit it has been a while since I made another blog, however I deem it’s time to get back into some blogging action!

Last blog I got a question about why I would be working with fluorescent proteints and an even better question what are they used for? As I explained in my comment in my first blog I will try to give you some more background information without getting to technical about the “whys” and “hows” of fluorescent proteins used in this thesis.
Let’s start of with a question. What is purpose of a microscope?

Plain and simple: to make the invisible, visible right? To magnify, measure and to describe samples in detail.
What if I told you that we can only make the invisible, visible untill a certain point. What I mean by this is that the most fundamental limitation of microscopy resolution is light. Yes, light, the light we wake up to, the lightbulb we put on in the evening and countless other examples. The one thing that all these sources of light have in common is they are bound by the laws of optics. The wave-like character means it can only be focused to a point with dimensions of the same order of magnitude as its wavelength. In common language: on the detector of any microscope, a very small dot will appear as a spot of a few hundreds of nanometers, limiting further detail (see figure below). This concept is known as point-spreading. (If you’re interested in microscopy I suggest you can find some basic information regarding microscopy at the following site: http://zeiss-campus.magnet.fsu.edu/articles/basics/index.html).

psf_gray

Point spreading is unavoidable and while many attempts have been made to negate its effect, the ‘secret’ to breaking this limit is not and try to prevent or avoid point spreading but to resort to the properties of ,yes you guessed it, fluorescent proteins.

Fluorescent proteins or fluorophores have generally “2 states”. The excited state by absorbing light or electromagnetic radiation (on state) and the “off-state” when they are not excited. When the electrons are excited they will fall back to their ground state emitting a photon and this process is called fluorescence.

Based on this process, the general idea of this superresolution microscopy is to quickly activate and deactivate them (on and off blinking) capturing up to 100,000 images in the meantime, with the intention of capturing only a single “blink” per position in each image. The random blinking on-off in this massive number of images captured allows for incredibly precise localisation of single molecules and increasing the overal resolution. An example is the figure below.

Microsoft PowerPoint - ComboXY_YZ.ppt [Read-Only]

This is superresolution microscopy (with fluorophores) in a nutshell.

I hope this clarified a little bit what the purpose is of making these fluoroscent proteins in my thesis. If you want any more information or got any questions regarding this topic, feel free to leave a comment! Allright I think that’s enough blogging action for today, see you readers next week!

Fluorescent proteins, a bright future ahead of us?

Well, hello there.

Did the shiny and beautiful colors of fluorescent proteins catch your attention?

Yes? Good, read on!
Maybe first of all a small introduction is at order. My name is Dries Verhelst and I am a Master Student Biochemistry at GroupT college associated with KULeuven.
As you could of guessed this blog will cover some topics about fluorescent proteins used in my masterthesis. Why fluorescent proteins you might ask? Is there anything else interesting besides their colors? Well the answer is YES! And I can promiss that they are far more than just shiny molecules.
Don’t worry I won’t try to bore you with technical details about them and the biochemical language that goes along with it (unless you are really into that, I can make an extra effort ofcourse), but I can allready let you know that these little diamonds are used in various applications throughout science and our lives.

Starting today, every (few)week(s) I will try to update this blog with some interesting or funny topic(s) regarding the impact these fluorophores (sorry, couldn’t resist) have on our society and vice versa and comment on these topic(s). Feel free to agree or disagree with me on these blogposts in the future!

If you want to know more about these molecules and what they are capable of, follow this blog because yes the future is looking brighter than ever for fluorescent proteins!

See you readers in a (few) week(s)!

Dries

P.S.
More information about myself and my thesis can be found if you click the “about” button.