Saturday, 2 April 2016

Welcome to the Lab

Hello again!

To kick-start the new science side of the blog, I thought I would begin with giving you a little bit of an introduction into what I do, and what my lab does. I won’t go into loads of details, but hopefully this will give you a brief look into my life as a scientist.

What is Neuroscience? Does that mean you study brain surgery?

You will be surprised at the number of times I've been asked this. (The answer is no I do not).

Neuroscience is pretty as well as fascinating
Neuroscience is the study of the structure or function of the nervous system and brain. This includes research into horrible diseases such as Alzheimers, ALS, MS etc, as well as fascinating processes such as memory formation or the long and complex process of us being able to interpret what our eyes see.

Ok, so what does the lab do?

The lab group as a whole has a main interest in the field of epigenetics. We look into how epigenetic mechanisms can underlie the beneficial effects of exercise on both mental and physical health. From this, we want to find out how epigenetics and exercise can help us become more resistant to disease and the negative effects of getting older.


It may sound complicated, but the basics of epigenetics is actually fairly easy to understand.

Genetics are cool, and not that scary
Hopefully you already know that in the majority of the cells in your body you have a bunch of stuff called DNA which houses all of your genes (those wonderful things that encode pretty much everything to do with your body, such as your hair colour).
Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression (which genes are turned on or off at any one point), without the genes themselves being changed.

For an analogy (because I like analogies), think of your DNA as a book. The pages are your genes and the words are the code that makes up the genes. Your eyes reading those words are the genes being expressed.
 Epigenetic mechanisms are little notes appearing attached to a page telling you to skip to the next page, or a little note reminding you not to skip a page that you would usually skip. These notes change how you read the book (your gene expression), but don’t actually change any of the words or pages.

Ok, so what do you do with this?

We can study these epigenetic changes and see how they interact with the environment. We can also see how these mechanisms are connected to both positive and negative changes in response to a changing environment (such as ageing or exercise). This is what we are interested in.

How does this connect to neuroscience?

In my PhD, I’m looking at how exercise and ageing interact. As we get older, a number of changes occur in our bodies. Exercising on a regular basis can make you fitter, healthier and happier. It’s also believed to help maintain both physical and mental health during older age
So basically I'm looking to see how the way you live your life can impact on your brain function when you're older via the mechanisms of epigenetics.

These guys are a brains best friend
There is obviously more to a lot of this than I have explained here, but this will do for a starter. I'll hopefully have my first explaining of science blog out in a couple of weeks or so.

Feel free to leave comments asking questions or leaving feedback - both are very much appreciated.

See ya next time!

1 comment:

  1. I've always thought of your DNA as a book with loads of little and not so little chapters. Each cell reads the chapter about itself and if any footnotes reference other chapters, then it goes and reads those too (e.g. see chapter 432.b "how to make enzyme x").

    Also: braaaaaaains

    (because you can't have a neuroscience blog without a zombie gag).