Small Intros to Big Questions: Did evolution have to happen this way?

Equilibria will occasionally post lightning introductions to our favorite big questions in biology. This is our first, and is in collaboration with Josh Cofsky, a PhD student in Jennifer Doudna and John Kuriyan’s labs at UC Berkeley. 

The world teems with an incredibly diverse array of lifeforms, each shaped by millions of years of evolution. Biologists and philosophers have long pondered: was the evolution of the particular varieties of life that we observe on Earth today a predetermined process, or a product of chance? Or, perhaps a bit of both?

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The cancer cell next door

We know a lot about what can go wrong inside cells during disease. But what about the healthy bystanders?

Your body is a mosaic of cells, all squished together to form the tissues and organs that allow you to digest, think and breathe. The proper function of these organs depends entirely on the health and behavior of the individual cells that make them up, and disease occurs when cells don’t behave normally. For example, cancer is caused by cells that divide over and over again when they should not. But what happens to the innocent bystanders, the well-behaved cells next door to the troublemakers, during disease?

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The Frenemy Inside You: tales of bacterial cooperation and collusion

You are roughly half bacteria. In terms of cell number, that is. It’s a disorienting reality to swallow, but the body that allows you to dance and digest is utterly dependent on the work of millions of bacterial collaborators. They colonize your gut, pulling off complicated chemical reactions to produce nutrients necessary for your survival (biotin and vitamin K, to name a few). They patrol your skin, forming complex communities that ward off dangerous disease-causing interlopers. And, research published last week shows that they may also affect brain development and the efficacy of cancer drugs. Continue reading “The Frenemy Inside You: tales of bacterial cooperation and collusion”