Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Prions and Tigers and... No, just prions

Prions are scary, really scary. They are the responsible agent for Creutzfeld Jakob's disease and Mad Cow Disease. Shawna and I were finishing a quiz for Biochem and one of the questions asked about prions, so we did a little research that freaked me out.

Almost without exception, infectious diseases come from viruses, bacteria, fungi, something with genetic material to reproduce itself. And for the most part, life has come up with defense mechanisms against these agents. Prions are different.

So, a bit of background. Proteins are pretty important. They make up most of our body. They are catalytic proteins (enzymes), signaling proteins (hormones), structural proteins, and more. DNA codes for proteins. Proteins are sequences of amino acids. Some proteins are long, some short. But longer ones fold into characteristic shapes, or conformations, based on the sequence of amino acids and their properties. Some amino acids attract each other, others repel, some are hydrophobic, some hydrophilic. The shape or conformation of a protein is crucial to its purpose. Basically, shapes are really important on a molecular level. Our body is kinda like a complex baby's toy where you fit the right block and right whole. Proteins can lose their shape because of pH or heat or other agents. In fact, when you cook eggs, the change is the denaturation of the proteins, or the proteins losing their fold. When you cook meat, you guessed it, also denaturation.

Okay, enough background. In the case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other prion diseases, there is a protein that is normally found in your body called PrP. Its purpose is not known, but it may be useful in memory. Then comes along a prion. This prion is also a protein. In fact it is the same sequence of amino acids as PrP, so sequentially it is identical. But remember how shape is a pretty big deal to proteins? Well, this prion is the same protein, misfolded. And this misfolded prion interacts with folded PrPs and gets them to misfold too. And now those get more to misfold. This wouldn't be too big of a deal, except for the fact that these proteins, now misfolded, create a new structure in your body. They fit together like legos to form what are called beta sheets, specifically in this case amyloid folds. These structures form in your brain and keep growing as more and more prions are induced. These aggregations of prions are especially compact and stable and form ever-growing scars in your brain. Then you go crazy. And die. Always.

There is no cure. There is no treatment. You can't kill them, because they are not alive. UV light does nothing (it usually kills stuff by mutating the DNA) because they have no genetic material. It can't be broken down by your bodies proteases (enzymes that break down proteins). In fact, it is very hard to denature or unfold them as well.

So... yeah. Prions...

Emergencies never tasted so sweet

My apartment is one of continual inhabitance. Meaning, people come, people go, but it hasn't seen a full turnover in a long time. Which is why we have a random 50lb bag of oatmeal in our storage closet, why we have games whose owner is unknown, and why our dishes consist of selections from the 10 worst and most impractical styles (the This-Dish-Gets-Hotter-Than-Your-Food-When-You-Microwave-It set, the We-Don't-Trust-You-To-Separate-Your-Own-Food-From-Mixing-Together-So-We-Come-With-Obnoxious-Food-Levies set, and the Nothing-But-Tiny-Worthless-Plates-That-Won't-Hold-Anything-But-You'll-Still-Have-Them-In-Your-Cupboard-For-Years-And-Even-Use-Them-When-Everyone-Else-Uses-The-Practical-Plates collection). So, there are items around the place that I just assume belong to my roommates, without realizing that they assume the items belong to me.

At the beginning of this school year we did a bit of purging. After everyone but Josh and I moved out, we realized the apartment was still full of things. I started to get suspicious that everything I assumed belonged to the other guys couldn't possibly all belong to Josh. So we cleaned.

And despite a few costly mistakes such as throwing away any pots that hold practical amounts of liquids and only keeping those suitable for cooking for a half a person or 20 people, we did score some wins. One of which was the mystery emergency kit!

In the storage room we found a box of food, good food. Well... maybe "edible" would be a more suitable adjective. But anyway, there were snicker bars, granola bars, ramen, fruit snacks, and more. Josh wasn't sure who it belonged to, so we partook as a newly formed apartment. You know how they say that going through an emergency together can be a real bonding experience? Well, apparently so is going through an emergency kit.

I'm sure I wasn't the only one that thought that rotating our food storage minus the replenishing part wasn't necessarily logical, but I was able to suppress that thought, and we ate on. I don't think it even lasted 72 hours, talk about false advertising. Perhaps our logic was based on the fact that we didn't know how much longer this kit would last, or the fact that its existence represented the hard work of none of us and the benefit of us all, or the fact that BYU already has 72 hours of supplies for us and that eating well now seemed more pleasant than 72 more miserable hours in a post-nuclear apocalypse. I'm not quite sure.

But just as the sweet memories of ill-treated and deformed snickers bars were fading from my memory, the Pheonix 72-hour kit rises from the ashes to rear its sweetness once again. The other day there were 3 multi-packs of 100% juice boxes that randomly appeared under our elevated couch (may I point out that this miraculous event alone is reason enough for our couch to be on cement blocks for all of you that ask. Can you imagine juice boxes appearing under a normally-elevated couch? What a mess!). They marinated there for a few days until I finally asked Josh, "What is the meaning of this?" All he had to say was "Emergency Kit" and I could already taste the fruits of disaster running down my throat.

So. If you want some juice boxes of Grape, Apple, or Fruit Punch, come join the festivities. But hurry! I think there are only a few of the 72 hours left.

25 Random Things

1. tahdifsiojas;dofjisadf
2. i;soiiasdjiofjiowear
3. nooitsadfjio;weqmkl
4. rjeiaolqlwyeropijioaxcmkl;
5. r=apnidooqmwopcmoic
6. ip[l23k90efmio
7. aumj28910j890fsda89moc
8. rjeia9l2l3y4qn90fnsanjisdfda
9. pjrio0fje8s9saijn8g90samiomi20
10. mjy89scaj89sdamionmnkls
11. lpoovweqeirkjpsallcmoaiaijsd
12. fko0r9sdiai0923kmdm
13. ajn890asdfj890saj890j890sadf
14. aum8a9z0isnagjasmlkamljiosd
15. gji8r9l9sdfaj890j8923nsdjka
16. njaim8eadsj89as809j8as89sadf
17. s2a3riaohj23jiosdajosdafjioj
18. .jk90235i90kwqosdfa
19. s8h9e0uwefajiojiosadfjsdfa
20. i8s908saj89ja09sa09dfjkfoisdfafjisa;sdaf;ijfsd
21. t0h9esadfjo2i3jilsdlkfuj908sdfa
22. mjo8s9t0asdfj89joi23nmklsdf09
23. wpoonidweerafrupliojlakfklsdfa
24. g9i0r2l3f0rui9e0n-du324jposda
25. e0v9e2ri3ijksafmasofi