Teaching Photosynthesis to Non Majors!


I am very relaxed when teaching majors photosynthesis because I don’t have to eliminate any details or terminology. But teaching a non-major biology student photosynthesis is challenging. The first challenge is the textbook which i am not a fan  skips so many details that I have to supplement regularly.

Thoughts before teaching lecture…

Do I say pigments or accessory pigments in the photosystems antenna complex?

Of course I will say after light is absorbed by the pigment it excites another electron in the next pigment molecule which is called resonance but then I would have to teach resonance.

Do I name the electron acceptor pheophytin or just stick with electron acceptor.

But no matter what I am naming ferrodoxin!

I’m still in the light reactions, I don’t want to even think about rubisco yet.

During cellular respiration I’m energized and the students seem to be interested but when we enter photosynthesis pure flat line. I try to remain upbeat because the details are so important, to revitalize the class two photosynthesis videos is a must!

With lecture and video I recently wrapped up the light reactions for both of my biology sections, but did I mention all of those questions above YES! Facts are FACTS I always tell my students ” this term will not be on the final or quiz” and my students give a sigh of relief.

Soon I will be entering the dark side (dark reactions).



Multiple Sclerosis


As a teenager I remember the Montel Williams Show, his deep quest to get to the root of his guests problems was refreshing and sometimes hilarious. Then one day his show came to end because of a disease, Multiple Sclerosis. During that time it was minimum research and therapy for the disease, but Montel became an MS spokesperson and created a nonprofit organization to fund research and educate the public. There is no known cure for MS but there are several different therapies which has increased the life expectancy of people infected. As with all my blogs I try to explain diseases in the simplest way possible, so that everyone can be informed. So let’s start with the basics…

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease in which your immune system attacks the protective sheath called myelin that covers your nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The damage to these cells are irreversible and slowly destroys the connection of the brain to the rest of your body.



Damage to the myelin sheath causes permanent neurological damage. Symptoms include: tingling in the hands, muscle spasms, difficulty in moving, problems with speech or swallowing. Therapy requires injections of interferon beta which reduces the inflammation caused by MS and allows the white blood cells to cross the blood brain barrier reducing lesions in the brain. An MRI that shows several plaques (lesions) in the brain represents the advanced stage of the disease.

The disease affects women disproportionately, it’s twice as common in woman ages 20-50 than men. Research  suggest that woman have a higher genetic variation that causes the increase production of interferon gamma, interferon gamma aggravates MS by promoting tissue damage and inflammation. Another study in Italy found that testosterone may be protective which is a reason why men develop the disease later in life. Although woman have a higher a rate of developing the disease, men MS attacks are more severe and progressive.

The direct cause of MS is unknown but studies suggest that it is a combination of genetic vulnerability and environmental triggers. Environmental triggers such as cigarette smoke, Epstein Barr virus and excessive drinking may cause the disease to develop. Individuals with a family history of MS are 20 times more likely to develop the disease, but genetics is only one part of the picture; 80 percent of people with MS do not have a family history.

If you have relatives with the disease or if you are currently diagnosed with MS, it is a not a death sentence. Lifestyle choices can make a difference in the quality of life, genetically vulnerable individuals should avoid cigarettes and commit to exercise and healthy food choices. Diagnosed patients should continue aggressive therapy after an MS attack, the interferons can replenish the myelin sheath cells to prevent further neurological damage.

Currently there are several thousand research labs conducting experiments and a simple blood test will be used for detection instead of an MRI that usually shows neurological damage.

I dedicate this blog to the memory Bria Hargrove a young woman who was a fighter all the way, hopefully these words will inform and educate people about the disease.



My business partner disputes the Flu Vaccine!

Unknown-3       The flu season has begun and the first victim in my family was my mother. This past Sunday as I was finishing up my six miles (I’m training for the love run half marathon), my mother called crying about her flu-like symptoms. After nursing her back to health I had to ask, “Mom did you get the flu shot?”Her response was that she didn’t believe in the shot which is a normal response for the baby boomer generation, but can you imagine my shock when my business partner Nneka Kirkland also said NO! Her argument was that it’s so many flu strains the vaccine is useless. She may have a point so I did some research….

So I start with the best source the Center for Disease Control and the first quote I see is

The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year.” 

And since I have been receiving email updates from the CDC for several years now I take their recommendations very seriously.  But what exactly is the flu vaccine anyway? The flu vaccine contains a weakened form of the virus  that will not cause flu illness.  The vaccine may contain up to four different strains and elicits an immune response by building  up antibodies that will attack the virus once you are exposed. Researchers have been tracking the flu for many decades and can predict which flu strain will be in season, they use the data collected from the flu weekly.

Further research revealed that my business partner was correct! The flu antigens can mutate during the course of a flu season, this mutation is known as an antigenic drift. The mutated strain can spread to others and ultimately become a pandemic causing researchers to scramble and make another vaccine specific to the new mutated form. We seen this happen in 2009 with the swine flu, that was a scary time for me because my son was only a year old and I stayed in the house for almost two weeks.

Being a scientist, science instructor and a science girl, I have to recommend the flu vaccine because you can prevent the spread of this sometimes lethal virus. Although the strains may mutate, there is still four known strains that you can protect yourself from. So if you are scared of needles, you can always choose the nasal form.

The Science of Water

Stay Hydrated!

Well I thought I’d kick this off with a little basic science first. We all know we need to drink water, need to stay hydrated, especially on a hot sunny day, or need to ‘replenish our fluids’ (I’m a bit of an Office fan so I had to throw that in). But I wanted to get into the actual science of it. I think if we have a basic understanding of whats going on in our bodies, we can better appreciate what a simple thing like drinking water can do for us. It also helps you to feel like your doing something great for your body, even if you can’t feel it having a direct effect. It feels healthy! 

Okay, lets get down to it. 

Our bodies are made of up to 50 to 70% water. Its in permeates every each of our bodies, from the cells, to organs to…

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The Molecules of Food and Nutrition


Nutrition specialist Dr. Dena Herman introduced UCLA students to the molecules of food and nutrition as part of our 2013 Science and Food course. We learned all about essential nutrients, were introduced to the exciting new world of phytonutrients, and even got to make smoothies! Check out the highlights:

Vince ReyesAbout the author: Vince C Reyes earned his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at UCLA. Vince loves to explore the deliciousness of all things edible.

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1 year in…

I remember the year when I had no results, the bad part about it was that i was receiving a weekly paycheck.

Evolution 101

Absolutely zero results. Absolutely zero results. These three words are often mutterings of a hysteric PhD student other symptoms including: PhD wrinkle onset, grey hair infiltration and insane caffeine levels in bloodstream. Their diagnosis: stress induced delirium. Their medication: a good ould glass of suck it up.

I think it’s quite usual for first year PhD students to become daunted by the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate level studies – I was no exception. The spoon feeding stops, the memorization of  facts ceases which allows one to explore unchartered scientific terrain. I found this fact exciting but undeniably frightening. For me, coming from a wet bench genetics undergrad to a computational dry bench PhD was difficult. The amount I had to learn was staggering – from evolutionary theory and graph theory to phylogenetics and programming langauges. More importantly I had to deal with feeling stupid EVERY day, something that an undergrad definitely doesn’t prepare you for…

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