Finally! Apoptosis explained, using nifty animation.

I’m sure you’ve spent many a night lying awake in bed wondering about your immune system; how it works and what would happen when one of the ‘soldiers’ in your immune system’s army encounters a diseased cell, right? Like, how exactly do your innards cope with these rogue, infected cells?

Well, Drew Berry has created some nifty animations of the inner workings of the cell at the microscopic level, one of which shows what happens when one of your body’s killer T cells seeks out and finds another cell infected by a virus or bacteria (infected cells are recognized by tiny traces of the intruder, antigen, found on their surface, which the killer T cell detects with receptors on its own surface). The process is called Apoptosis, which as one commenter on the video on YouTube puts it:

Basically it is a cascade of proteins activating other proteins. Eventually, the end product protein breaks down the cytoskeleton of the [diseased] cell, which determines the cell’s rigidity and structure, causing the cell to essentially disintegrate.

The killer T cell produces one type of protein, which produces another inside the infected cell, and so on and so on, until a certain protein (caspase 3) is produced that has the effect of causing the diseased cell to ‘pop’ and disintegrate, making it easy for phage cells to clean up the mess by ingesting the smaller bits and bobs that hang around like they’ve nothing better to do.

It’s a fascinating process that’s now easier to visualize with the help of animations such as the ones Drew Berry has spent many, many months researching and putting together.

Here’s the apoptosis clip (just over 4  minutes long), which shows how the process works.

More cool and geeky animations can be found at Molecular Movies, a portal to cell and molecular animation.

A morning walk to work

Walking by the TIFF Bell Lightbox building on King West on the way to work this morning, a guy in front of us strolls along with a hint of a drunken swagger. Dressed in ripped and soiled jeans, a dirty jacket that’s too big for his slight frame and carrying a green plastic bottle crate, he weaves and snakes his way through the early morning crowd. Oncoming people have to steer clear of him, as he moves from side to side on the already narrow sidewalk, seemingly oblivious to their presence.

I wonder why he’s carrying a crate. Does he sit on it outside of Tim Horton’s or Starbucks all day, panhandling for change? He looks down-and-out, like he’s seen better days and now his luck has run out.

Across the street on the side of the TIFF building, an impeccably dressed, larger-than-life image of Grace Kelly stares down on this unfolding scene with mild disinterest.

He seems to sense our approach and slowly turns around to make eye contact.

“Hey, fellas!” He actually shouts this loudly, as we begin passing by.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I reply, in a friendly way.

He blinks. I don’t think he’s used to people sounding so friendly after one of his outbursts.

“It’s goin’, it’s goin’…” he mumbles quietly after a second or two.

At this point we’ve passed him by and are on our way down the street, moving steadily away from Grace’s watchful gaze.

“It’s fuckin’ goin’!” he says, with an increase in volume.

“I said it’s FUCKIN’ GOIN’, assholes!” he shouts, as we make our way to work this morning.

Mushroom Studio

The Mushroom Studio, by Katie Bethune-Leamen
The Mushroom Studio, by Katie Bethune-Leamen

I’ve been meaning to post this photo for some time, but my regular camera broke a few weeks ago so all I’m left with right now is the camera on my phone, and the quality isn’t too good. Anyway, it’s a photo taken in the Toronto Sculpture Garden, which I pass every day on my way to work, and it’s a giant mushroom (specifically, Amanita pantherina) currently on display, which is actually a working studio for Canadian artist Katie Bethune-Leamen. The art pieces in the garden change every 6-12 months, or so, and this is the exhibit du jour.

Isn’t that a cool place to work, even if a bit cramped? I keep expecting to see a giant, hookah-smoking caterpillar sitting on top of it one day, as I walk by on my way to the office.