Biochem Blogs

Biochemistry blog, science writing

The traveling biochemist: Enzymes, pathways, proteases, and homeostasis

@biochemprof

Clay Clark – @biochemprofI'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope

As I’ve written before in this blog, one of the advantages of working in an academic institution is the opportunity of international travel. Science is a world-wide endeavor, and one should take opportunities to visit international colleagues whenever possible. I was invited recently to two international conferences to give seminars on caspases and allostery. The first conference was in Playa Del Carmen – Xcaret, Mexico (Enzymes, Coenzymes and Metabolic Pathways), and the second conference was in Navi Mumbai, India, at ACTREC (Advanced Center for Treatment, Research, and Education in Cancer), part of the TATA Memorial Cancer Center in India.

The enzymes conference in Xcaret was organized by Beatrice Golinelli-Pimpaneau and Elizabeth Komives and focused on enzyme function and regulation, coenzymes, metabolism, and methods for examining enzyme structure and function. There were many good talks on protein conformational changes, protein dynamics, kinases, and morpheeins. (If you are not sure what a morpheein is or how it relates to enzyme allostery, then see the review below by Eileen Jaffee (1)). The schedule of speakers is provided here. The five-day conference was held in the beautiful Occidental Grand Xcaret resort, an all-inclusive environment with great food, drinks, pools, and a private bay for swimming and snorkeling (a couple of pictures are below along with a video of flamingos out for a walk). The weather was ~85 ºF all week, compared to mid-50s in Raleigh, so it was good to be in the Caribbean for a few days. Overall, the environment was terrific, and the seminars were outstanding.

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Playa Del Carmen – Xcaret

Macaws

Macaw at Xcaret Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

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The traveling biochemist: Science in the far east

Clay Clark

Clay Clark – @biochemprof I'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope

When I’m lucky enough to be invited to a conference outside the United States, I jump at the chance to visit faculty and students at other institutes. Recently, I was invited by the Biochemical Journal to attend the yearly editorial meeting in Beijing, China. I’ve been a member of the editorial board for several years, and the editors usually meet in London each spring to discuss issues pertaining to the journal. Two years ago BJ opened an office in Beijing in anticipation of the tremendous growth in scientific research occurring in Asian countries. In order to highlight research of the editorial board members, BJ held a one-day research symposium (Cellular Processes: the Life and Death Decisions of a Cell) at Tsinghua University prior to the board meeting. The talks focused on new imaging techniques, nanotubes and intercellular communications, membrane dynamics and tumor suppression, and molecular switches between apoptosis, autophagy, and programmed necrosis.

I traveled to Beijing several days before the meeting in order to visit tourist sites around Beijing as well as to visit Dr. Yigong Shi and his students at Tsinghua University. I’ve crossed paths with Yigong on several occasions since we are both interested in cell death mechanisms and we both served on NIH study section, so he invited me to give a seminar on my research. The room was packed with faculty and students who were quite engaging. Yigong then treated me to a lunch of Peking Duck and other delicious dishes before he returned to his duties as a delegate to the National People’s Congress, which was in session at the time.

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The traveling biochemist: Cell death in Barga, Italy

Sarah MacKenzie

Sarah MacKenzie

A few weeks ago I attended my first Gordon Conference on Cell Death in Barga, Italy with my PI, Clay Clark. The conference was located in a beautiful resort nestled in the Tuscan hills off the beaten path between Florence and Pisa. It was a spectacular venue for 170 cell death aficionados to present their most current data and discuss new topics in an informal setting. We arrived in Rome the morning that the conference began, rented a car (we were in line behind Morgan Spurlock) and traversed Italy dodging Italian drivers who have no regard for lanes or speed limits. It is actually a pretty fun experience to drive in Italia! The conference began that evening with two excellent keynote addresses presented by Martin Raff and Richard Youle.

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The traveling biochemist: A trip to Mumbai, India, Vol. 10

Traveling to the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference in Mumbai

Clay Clark

Clay Clark – @biochemprof

I traveled to Mumbai, India, for the first time to attend the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference. This is the tenth and final blog in a series about the trip.

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In this installment: Final thoughts about Mumbai

Here are some odds-n-ends topics that I jotted down during the week:

People living in poverty seem similar to me regardless of where I travel. In India, the poor areas reminded me of the rural areas of Mexico, where small run-down houses or tents were built beside piles of rubble. In India, the kids seem to know who has money based on their clothing. At one point in the trip (the Ellora caves) a teenager looked at me and I could see him sizing me up and down looking at my clothes. Even though my shirt and pants were not expensive, they were clean and not threadbare, like many of the clothes in India. I also wonder for whom these kids are hawking. At several stop lights in the city, people will walk by the cars selling toys or begging for money while showing a small, sad-looking baby. But then when the light turns green their face and demeanor changes, like they can turn off the act until the next red light. Maybe I’m cynical, but it looked to me liked they were trained.

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The traveling biochemist: A trip to Mumbai, India, Vol. 9

Traveling to the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference in Mumbai

Clay Clark

Clay Clark – @biochemprof

I traveled to Mumbai, India, for the first time to attend the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference. This is the ninth blog in a series about the trip.

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In this installment: Research at ACTREC; Lunch with Kakoli and her students, the trip home

Showering was a bit cold this morning. There is a small hot water heater on the wall, and I think that I had the plug turned on because the water was tepid and not freezing. I showered with just the hot water faucet turned on, and I’ll describe the experience as “refreshing.” My suitcase is with Kakoli. I had hoped that she or her students would have put it in my room before I arrived, but they didn’t. You have to imagine now what I’m thinking for the trip home. I took enough clothing to Aurangabad for the two-day trip, but I planned on having my suitcase to wear clean clothes today. So now after showering I’m wearing clothes for a second day after my admittedly novice attempt as using a bidet after a long day of hiking in the sun, and my clothes still have a faint odor of mothballs. My white socks are stained brown on the bottom because we had to remove our shoes when walking through several of the caves (which are considered temples here). Overall I think it is quite funny, but whoever sits next to me on the sixteen-hour flight later tonight may be very annoyed by the time we reach the US. It’s funny how one quickly loses a sense of decorum when having to make due with what’s available.

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The traveling biochemist: A trip to Mumbai, India, Vol. 8

Traveling to the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference in Mumbai

Clay Clark

Clay Clark – @biochemprof

I traveled to Mumbai, India, for the first time to attend the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference. This is the eighth blog in a series about the trip. This is the longest blog of the series, but it was a very full day.

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In this installment: A trip to Daulatabad Fort and the Ellora Caves; the Guesthouse at ACTREC; Whose underwear?; A discussion about toilet paper

Daulatabad Fort

Daulatabad Fort

After breakfast we drove toward Ellora caves and stopped at an old fort called Daulatabad. I have to say that this was probably my favorite tour this week. We paid 100 Rs to get in, and we hired a guide for another few hundred rupees. The fort is unlike the British forts where there is a wall surrounding a castle, sometimes with a moat. This place was built for defense, with lots of fake turns, spikes on the doors to kill elephants, and a moat. Apparently, opposing armies would use elephants to break the doors, so the occupants used spikes to kill the elephants. In response, the attacking army would put a layer of camels in front of the doors for the elephants to run into, as a cushion from the spikes.

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The traveling biochemist: A trip to Mumbai, India, Vol. 7

Traveling to the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference in Mumbai

Clay Clark

Clay Clark - @biochemprof

I traveled to Mumbai, India, for the first time to attend the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference. This is the seventh blog in a series about the trip.

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In this installment: Driving in India and a trip to the Ajanta Caves

So, I’m running on adrenaline and caffeine this week, mostly caffeine. I woke at 3 am this morning because I was afraid I would oversleep and miss the flight. Ruchi called about 11 last night and said the plans had changed. We were going to leave at 5:45 instead of 4:45 am. I thought that was cutting it close for a 6:50 flight, but since she lives here, I guessed she knew what she was talking about. Anyway, I had some coffee and read a while, then went downstairs to check out of the guesthouse at 5:30 am. Everyone else was there because Ruchi told them to be ready at 5:30. The guy behind the desk wasn’t too happy with us because I think that he was sleeping. There was a large cloth tied up behind the desk, making a tent. I think he was sleeping under the cloth. Very strange, but perhaps efficient.

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The traveling biochemist: A trip to Mumbai, India, Vol. 6

Traveling to the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference in Mumbai

Clay Clark

Clay Clark

I traveled to Mumbai, India, for the first time to attend the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference. This is the sixth blog in a series about the trip.

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In this installment: a trip to Elephanta Island and shopping in Mumbai

Ah. Seven hours of sleep. It’s a good way to start the day, plus I was up in time for “bed tea.” Now I have a couple of hours of reading time before sightseeing. Overall it’s been nice having hosts to help me navigate Mumbai. I think tourists would have to book a tour company with a guide or stay in the financial district where there are the typical highrises. From what I’ve seen so far, Mumbai is not a walk-able city, like London, for example.

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The traveling biochemist: A trip to Mumbai, India, Vol. 5

Traveling to the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference in Mumbai

Clay Clark

Clay Clark

I traveled to Mumbai, India, for the first time to attend the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference. This is the fifth blog in a series about the trip.

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In this installment: Jetlag, More about WiFi, Crowds in Mumbai, More Food

Something woke me at 3:30 or so, and I gave up going back to sleep around 4 am. I’ve noticed this before when I’ve traveled to Europe. After 4-5 hours of deep sleep, if something wakes me, then my body thinks that it’s afternoon in Raleigh, and why would I be asleep in the afternoon in Raleigh? Right now it’s about 6:15 pm in Raleigh, so I guess I’m up for the day. It’s going to be a long one.

I think the day will be similar to yesterday – “bed tea,” talks, coffee, talks, lunch, talks, coffee, talks, closing session, dinner. But I’ll fill in the details later. I have to say, though, that I’m starting to like this “bed tea” thing. If they delivered Starbucks coffee as “bed tea,” then I’d be very happy.

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The traveling biochemist: A trip to Mumbai, India, Vol. 4

Traveling to the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference in Mumbai

Clay Clark

Clay Clark

I traveled to Mumbai, India, for the first time to attend the joint Indo-US X-ray crystallography conference. This is the fourth blog in a series about the trip.

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In this installment: Problems with WiFi, Science in India, A “Magical” Professor, and Great Food (of course)

I awoke at 5 am after about six hours of sleep. It was very comfortable temperature-wise. I spent a couple of hours writing the letter for yesterday, then I went to the conference center to send it.

The WiFi room at the center was locked. No problem. I thought that I could stand outside the room and get connected. But, apparently, someone has to turn on the modem for the WiFi. Frack. I just don’t understand the WiFi here. The hotspot has a radius of about 20 feet it seems, and the students are logging people into the network using their personal account passwords and usernames. Since I couldn’t get onto the WiFi right away I went to get some coffee and talk to folks. I’m starting to enjoy the coffee.

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