Posted on 20 April 2012.
Posted on 12 February 2011.
Anyone who’s ever flown internationally is familiar with jet lag. It’s the disorienting feeling of suddenly finding your body in another time zone. But jet lag isn’t just in your head.
“Jet lag is a disorder of the whole body,” said Justin Blau, a biologist at New York University whose team studies circadian rhythms in the brain cells of fruit flies. “It’s not just your brain telling you to wake up at the wrong time of day, it’s also your liver clock telling you it’s getting ready to deal with food at the wrong time of day.”
Like researchers all over the world, Blau’s team is seeking to better understand what makes cellular clocks tick – how the gears fit together. At their weekly lab meeting, Blau and his team gathered in his office to talk about a new study by biologists at Blau’s alma mater, Cambridge University. The upshot, he says, is simple.
“Clocks are more complicated than we thought,” Blau said.
Until now there’s been a general consensus in the field that the DNA in a cell’s nucleus is the spring that drives the clock. But Ahkilesh Reddy and John O’Neill at Cambridge looked for timekeeping in red blood cells – a human cell with no nucleus at all. What they found was a chemical called peroxiredoxin, which allowed the cells to maintain rhythms for days with no outside stimulus – and no DNA spring. Reddy says that’s a surprising discovery.
“The status quo for many years has been that although non-transcriptional rhythms – those not requiring DNA – have been seen in very primitive bacteria, no one thought that you’d be able to see the same things in complex organisms,” Reddy said.
Matthew Kayleigh, a post-doctorate student in Blau’s lab at NYU, says the discovery is groundbreaking.
“It’s a bit like you know how a car works, and these people are saying there’s like another motor in a car,” Kayleigh said.
The Cambridge team didn’t just look at human cells. They found the same chemical, serving the same function, in a species of algae. Ben Collins, another post-doc and the NYU lab’s circadian rhythm expert, says that this kind of circadian rhythm may date back to the very origins of life on earth, because while the genes are different, this newly discovered chemical marker is the same in algae, flies, and humans.
“This is something that links all those sets of genes together, and it suggests maybe the original clock in the first organism was something like this,” Collins said.
But although the clock teaches about the past, it has immediate health implications in the future. And that brings us back to jet lag. If peroxiredoxin turns out to be the body clock’s original spring, Cambridge University’s Ahkilesh Reddy says it could give doctors a new way to wind the human clock – without having to mess with genetics
“Even though gene therapy has been bandied around for many years, affecting gene function is very difficult, whereas things like peroxiredoxin are easy to target with drugs,” Reddy said.
That’s further down the line. In the meantime, scientists are looking at just how many species have this metabolic clock in their cells. That means Blau’s NYU team will keep looking at flies, and keep asking questions.
Posted on 12 February 2011.
The undergraduate admission office at NYU is housed in an unmarked building on Broadway. But it is where important decisions are made – well, important to the 42,000 applicants for the class of 2015. And that’s an increase of 11 percent from last year. Shawn Abbott is the assistant vice president of NYU’s undergraduate admission.
“We are pretty much at the capacity of what our admission officers can read,” Abbot said. “We have just about 26 admission officers that are responsible for the review of these 42,000 applications. When the dust settles, we would have hired 3 or 4 additional part-time readers.”
Columbia is facing an even more dramatic increase. It received more than 34,000 applications this year, a surge by almost a third from the previous year. The admission office is so swamped that they don’t even have time for an interview. Bari Norman is a former admission officer at Barnard College and now an independent counselor.
“Even though the economy has slowed, and we would think the interest might go down as a result because these places have pretty hefty price tags on average,” Norman said, “I think almost the sense that a degree from this place is important, or increasingly important in light of the economy, becomes more significant. Hence more applicants come their way.”
But it also got easier technically to apply for Columbia this year because it finally adopted the Common Application: a generic undergraduate application system accepted online by more than 400 colleges in the United States. And Columbia was the last holdout among Ivy League universities.
“The common application is always going to give some sort of a boost,” Norman said. “You see it in the initial year, and some schools see an even bigger boost in the second year.”
On top of that, financial aid also plays an important factor. Janaye Pohl, a junior from California, chose Columbia over Berkeley for exactly that reason.
“The UC system doesn’t give out a lot of financial aid,” Pohl said. “I would have to end up paying more even though the tuition rate is lower.”
In 2008, Columbia introduced a “no loans” policy. That means Columbia will make up the difference between the tuition and family contribution with university grants.
“It’s around a thousand or 15 hundred a semester for me, which is like fantastic,” she said.
A fantastic deal indeed. But for Bari Norman, the independent counselor, her experience tells her ultimately it is the school’s reputation that really matters.
“Columbia will always be a place, so long as the reputation stays as it is,” Norman said. “It’s an Ivy League school. The admit rate is very low. Many people just want what they can’t have. And that would always create the cycle that we have at Columbia and that we have elsewhere. ”
For the 34,000 who applied to Columbia, the chance of getting what they want is getting smaller. Based on previous admission numbers, only about one out of 14 applicants will get in.