Tag Archives: molecular genetics

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Daniel’s mother was kind enough to let me borrow the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  I’m a biologist.  Specifically, I’ve taken a lot of genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology classes.  All throughout my college career, professors talked about experiments done with HeLa cells.  When asked what HeLa cells were, one of my professors simply replied that they were an immortal human cell line.  No explanation regarding the name was given.

This book details the life, death, and “afterlife” of Henrietta Lacks, and her cervical cancer cells that were taken without her consent at Johns Hopkins.  This was done back in the 1950’s, and her cells are still being used for research today.  Henrietta died in 1951, after losing the battle with cancer.  The book focuses not just on these phenomenal cells that have lead to a number of scientific and medical discoveries including the first visualization of chromosomes and the HPV vaccine, but also on Henrietta herself, including her history and her family.  Her family continues to live in poverty, unable to afford basic healthcare.  This, despite the fact that many scientists have made a fortune off of Henrietta’s cells.  The name “HeLa” comes from the first two letters of her first and last name.  The book also discusses medical ethics and the changes that have been made since the early to middle 20th century due to scenarios like this.

It’s a riveting book, and I’ve wanted to read it ever since I StumbledUpon a link that gave a brief history of Henrietta and her family.  Before I found this story, I was clueless as to the origin of these cells.  After reading this short article, I did some research and found out about this fascinating book that had been written about her.  I’m so glad that I’m finally getting the chance to read it.  Whether you’re curious about the woman whose cells continue to thrive 60 years after her death or you want to read about a time before basic standards of medical ethics were in place, it’s a great read, with historically and scientifically interesting context.

Cloudy day, taken last weekend.



Today was a very big and exciting day.  I am officially graduated from the University of Rochester.  I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Genetics.  That sounds really impressive, right?

I was so happy to have my family here, and Daniel was amazing.

We arrived on campus shortly after 7:30am.  I escorted my brother, sister, and Daniel to the Eastman Quadrangle so that they could find seats.  Then I wandered over to Todd Union, since that is where the procession would line up before walking to the Eastman Quad.  It was rainy and cold all day.  And before you ask: No, there were no tents and they did not move it inside.  It did not get out of the 40s all day today, so I sat in the front row shivering while everyone gave their speeches.  I must admit, I really liked Class President JJ’s speech.  I thought it was funny and totally appropriate for the group to which he was speaking.

After the Commencement Ceremony, we had a solid two hours before my degree would be conferred to me in the departmental ceremony.  So I met my friends in Rush Rhees and we all took pictures together.  It was good to do this before everyone left to go to their department ceremonies.  I’m glad I got to see everyone one last time.

My family and I relaxed in Gleason Library, until 12:30pm when I had to leave for the Palestra to line up for the Biology department’s ceremony.   My aunt and uncle decided to attend this ceremony, but skipped this morning’s speeches.  Considering the weather, this was a very good decision.  They handed us sheets with a short message that each of us had to write and send in ahead of time, thanking our families, professors, friends, etc., along with information about our future plans.  The best response I heard was from a girl that said her future plans included “getting down to business to defeat the Huns”.  That’s a Mulan reference, in case you missed it.

After I got my degree, we headed back to the apartment, where there was cheese, grapes, crostinis, cookies, and champagne for a little snack before my family had to leave.  It was so great to see everybody.

It feels good to be done, but I’m going to miss it.  What a bittersweet time it is for all college graduates.  Congratulations to the Class of 2011.  I hope everyone has savored these last few moments of undergrad.


X-Men (90’s Animated TV Show)

A few months ago, Daniel and I purchased the first volume of X-Men: The Animated Series.  As far as comic characters go, I’ve always been drawn to the X-Men.  This attraction is even stronger now that I’m into molecular genetics.  I remember watching it as a kid, but the thing I remembered most was the awesome opening theme.

The series starts by introducing Jubilee (who, in all honesty, is one of the more lame X-Men in the comics); she has just discovered her mutant powers and struggles to control them.  It eventually introduces the more well-known characters of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Beast, Charles Xavier, and, my personal favorite, Storm.  It also has such well-known villains as Sabretooth, The Juggernaut, Sentinels, Pyro, and of course Magneto.

I hope to acquire the second volume in the near future, since it sounds like the later volumes also deal with some very interesting themes.  Some of it is heavy stuff that I don’t think I grasped as a 6-year-old, like Magneto’s backstory.  In the comics, it is very obvious that he is a Holocaust survivor angered by the murder of his family.  In the television show, this is somewhat glossed over, with the backstory being that his family was killed in some war after a group of men came in to take over his country.  In both the comics and the show, these mutant characters clearly represent how minorities have been and are treated in society.

On a small side note: Magneto’s backstory will be examined more fully in the coming months by Daniel, in his blog about Jews and Comic Books.  I know, he hasn’t updated in a while.  But, in his defense, he has been very busy with school stuff.  More updates will come!  He has not abandoned that blog!

Halloween 2009

I wanted so badly to be Storm for Halloween that year.  But I just didn’t have the time to make a real costume.  Thus, my attempt at being a half-moon cookie was all that I could muster.  Daniel does make an amazing Wolverine, though.

Meliora Moments and Anxiety

I think it is natural that I’m suffering from a little bit of anxiety right now.  I’m going through a huge transition phase in my life.  This is exciting, but really scary.  I will be graduating from college in just over a month.  I remember when I first walked through the doors of my freshman dorm, Susan B. Anthony Hall.


I lived here.

I was the most excited I had ever been about anything.  The fit felt perfect, and I thrived.  I thought hoped it would never end.  My undergraduate experience was phenomenal, except for a few hiccups.  I loved most of the classes I took, but naturally my favorites were all of the biology classes.  After completing more than half of my sophomore year and debating between a degree in Biochemistry or Molecular Genetics, I decided genetics was a better option for me.

Now, I am about to graduate.  I have my first job interview on Thursday for a lab in the UR Medical Center.  This is causing me a great deal of anxiety.  I keep asking myself “What if I don’t get the job?  What if I do get the job?!”  At the same time, I’m very excited for the changes that are about to happen.  I am going to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, the first in my immediate family to do so.  It’s just a little overwhelming when you are trying to find a job, study for the GRE, and coordinate everything that needs to be done before my graduation, in addition to regular weekly class stuff.  But, as with everything else in my life, I know that I will get everything done on time and I will be okay.

10 Things I’m Getting Excited About (Spring Edition)

Spring is coming…eventually.  Here are a few things that I’m looking forward to doing here in Rochester as soon as the weather allows for them.

10.  Taking a stroll around Lake Ontario.

Okay, not all the way around it, but we live less than 10 minutes away, and it’s the closest thing to the ocean we have in Rochester.  Although I would never go swimming in it and it’s not nearly as exciting or fun as the ocean, it is still a gigantic body of water that is practically sitting in our backyard, and there are lots of trails nearby that are great for walking.

9.  Bike riding through Genesee Valley Park.

This year Daniel and I are lacking bikes, but that won’t stop us from walking along the river.  I can’t wait to see all of the wildlife that comes out when it starts to get warm.

8.  Visiting High Falls on a warm day.

I’m sure that you’re noticing a theme.  As soon as it gets warm, the goal is to be outside as much as possible.  I believe this is true for all Rochesterians.  High Falls is a great place to visit because of its bizarre location, right in the middle of downtown Rochester.  I think it is one of those things that you definitely must seek out, because you will only find the falls after ducking down various side streets downtown.  They are not obvious until you are standing in front of them.  I love taking people there for the first time, because they are always surprised.

7.  Exploring the Public Market.

The Public Market is pretty famous around here.  It’s huge, and when the weather is warm it’s practically a weekly festival.  I’m looking forward to purchasing fresh, inexpensive, locally grown fruits and veggies.  But the Public Market has so much more than your typical farmer’s markets.  They have everything you could imagine, and house various vendors where you can grab a quick meal or a cup of coffee.

6.  Strolling around the Park Avenue neighborhood.

I have forgotten what the big, beautiful houses around here look like in the sunshine.  I’m so excited about taking nightly strolls with Daniel and enjoying the warmth (if it ever comes).  Eventually the restaurants will open up onto the sidewalks and we can walk past people dining and smell the delicious aromas of the various restaurants in the neighborhood.  This brings me to number 5.

5.  Eating a gyro on the patio at Sinbad’s on Park Ave.

This is one of Daniel’s and my favorite places to go for a date night.  The food is delicious, but inexpensive, and the service is always good.

4.  Having a few (too many) drinks and one last “Hurrah!” on Dandelion Day.

D. Day.  A true University of Rochester tradition.  I have so many fond memories of previous D. Days, and I’m sad that this will be my last.  So I have to make it count.

3.  Attending the Lilac Festival.

I have never been able to attend the Lilac Festival, but this year I am making it a priority, especially since my family will be in town for my graduation.  They boast over 1200 varieties of lilacs, as well as live performances, art, and food.

2.  Having a picnic in Mendon Ponds Park.

Daniel and I love to pack sandwiches and snacks and go for a hike in Mendon Ponds Park.  Although for a couple of years we had searched, last spring we finally found the Devil’s Bathtub.  It is actually a kettle hole, which, according to Wikipedia, is formed by retreating glaciers.  In addition to interesting landforms, they have a large variety of wildlife throughout the park.  (My least favorite are the snakes.)

1.  My college graduation.

It’s approaching really quickly which is both scary and exciting.  I will officially have my degree in molecular genetics.  All of my hard work will have finally paid off.  But, it will also mean that I will have to say goodbye to this place, to which I have become very attached in the past 5 years.  Also, I will certainly miss my friends.

Rush Rhees