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  • Alex Cloherty

My PhD in 100 words

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

This week on Microbial Mondays, this is all I've got: the topic of my PhD, explained jargon-free in 100 words. I was asked to sum it up for a course I'm taking through my graduate school. I always find that keeping things succinct is actually more difficult than writing a lengthy piece. So here is my mini-masterpiece for today:


You've heard about Marie Kondo, right? It turns out, so has every cell in your body. Just like your apartment prior to lockdown-cleaning, cells can accumulate unwanted stuff. For cells, however, this can be a life-or-death scenario. That unwanted stuff within cells can be dangerous - such as invading viruses. The good news is, cells have a built-in system for recycling that unwanted stuff. My research focuses on this system, termed autophagy, and on better understanding its mechanics in order to fine-tune autophagy during infections with HIV, Dengue virus, and SARS-CoV-2. I want to help your cells recycle their viruses.


Readers, what do you think? Comments and critiques are welcome. And, let me know if you like these bite-sized, jargon-free explanations. If you do, I can try to incorporate more of them in the regularly rolling Microbial Mondays content.


A longer post will be coming back next week! In the meantime, take care and have a great week.


~ Alex

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4 Comments


Henry Hansen
Henry Hansen
May 03, 2021

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” ― Mark Twain


It is fascinating cells incorporate the processes to clean themselves and stay alive. Are some of the same cells in our bodies with us for our entire lives?

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Alex Cloherty
Alex Cloherty
May 06, 2021
Replying to

That is a great quote! Mark Twain always has the best ones.


Great question! Indeed, some cells are extremely and impressively long-lived - for example neurons (some neurons, i.e. brain and nerve cells, are indeed thought to stay with us for our entire lives), and some immune cells. Long-lived immune cells are typically the ones responsible for making sure that we "remember" viruses/bacteria/parasites that we have previously come into contact with, to ensure that we can respond faster to the same threat the second time our immune system "sees" it. I wrote a little about that here: https://www.microbialmondays.com/post/the-long-arm-of-the-immune-system if you're interested in reading more about immune memory!


Cheers,

Alex

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michaelrmaser
michaelrmaser
Apr 28, 2021

Hi Alex, I like simplified explanations! And I appreciate your summary here ... naturally I'm wondering what might impair or expedite 'autophagy'! - cheers, michael

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Alex Cloherty
Alex Cloherty
May 06, 2021
Replying to

Hi Michael, thanks for the comment! I have just written a little piece on autophagy (expanding on this 100 word summary) that I'll post here today, and gets into that a little. In brief, autophagy is a key process in the immune system, so there are actually lots of drugs that enhance or inhibit autophagy in different ways, in order to treat a wide range of conditions like epilepsy, bipolar disorder, cancer, and transplantation (ie. to prevent rejection of newly transplanted tissues). And, there are also drug-free ways. For example, our cells naturally up-regulate autophagy when they are hungry. Starving cells will start to break down anything that is unnecessary at that moment in order to fuel necessary processes. This…

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