Malaria – An Ancient Struggle

Posted by on May 13, 2013 | 0 comments

Before we discuss why sickle cell anemia has persisted for so long, let’s take a detour to learn about once of the most ancient human diseases: malaria.  

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor – just a bioengineer who happens to find pathophysiology fascinating.  If you find an error, please let me know!  Also, NONE of my drawings are to scale.

Malaria: scourge of the human race since time immemorial.  The disease is mentioned by the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Sumerians as far back as 2700 BC.  Some Biblical scholars even believe that Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering from malaria before Jesus healed her.

Unlike the ancient scholars who attributed malaria to the “bad air” (mala aria) of the swamps, we now know that malaria is spread by mosquitoes (who, as it so happens, absolutely love swamps.  You were close, ancient scholars).  But what happens after that terrible bite?  How does malaria make you sick?

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Sickle Cell – The Power of the Little Guy

Posted by on Apr 28, 2013 | 1 comment

Today, we’ll be learning about sickle cell anemia.  
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor – just a bioengineer who happens to find pathophysiology fascinating.  If you find an error, please let me know!  Als0, NONE of my drawings are to scale.

Sickle cell anemia is the ultimate morality tale about the importance of the little guy: in the 3 billion letters that make up your genome, one letter determines if you’re healthy or sick.  Inheriting the wrong gene for hemoglobin can cause extremely painful episodes, recurring infections, and even death.  Let’s see how it happens.

It all starts with what scientists like to call the Central Dogma of Biology.  It says that information comes from your DNA, gets translated into amino acids, which get strung together to form proteins.  DNA is the instructions, amino acids are like LEGOs, and the proteins are like the resulting LEGO dinosaur.

The central dogma of biology: DNA provides the instructions for the order of amino acids (LEGOs), which fold to create a protein (or dinosaur).

The central dogma of biology: DNA provides the instructions for the order of amino acids (LEGOs), which fold to create a protein (or dinosaur).

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