Reviving my (Com)Passion (also, virus genetics)

Well hi.

It’s been a while.

Let me explain.

In June of last year, I moved down to Arizona and explored who I am outside of “future GC”. After not matching for the second time, I seriously considered not pursuing genetic counseling again. Whether or not I ever become a genetic counselor, I will always love genetics, advocacy, disability awareness, and of course, giving compassion. I didn’t want to stop talking about those things! But it became increasingly hard to put on a public persona of someone with bursting passion about the field, after it had hurt me several times. I needed a break from blogging, and once I did decide to apply for a third time, I had not been writing for a while anyway, and I decided to lay low this cycle rather than spreading my business all over the ✨bLoGosPheRe.✨

After a good six months of finding myself and defining myself, I found myself in NYC this past weekend for an interview at Sarah Lawrence College.

I was seriously touched by how much of the staff there had read this blog, and wished for me to write more. I had a long phone call with my husband Zach, expressing how afraid I was to start writing again, only to be crushed again on Match Day and have to be like sike looks like I was right the first time, I should have just slowly faded out of the GC world.

But this blog doesn’t have to be about me!

So let’s hang out for a few weeks, talk about genes, and if I match great, we’ll hang out more! I’ve missed participating in GC media and I look forward to reviving some of the joy of Career of Compassion Blog!

Alright, enough about me. Let’s talk genetics, specifically how virus genetics work, why that allows them to infect us, and how we’ve harnessed their special powers for genetic research. A huge topic, so let’s get started.

Viruses have been in the news lately! We’re not going to speak specifically on COVID-19 because there’s enough media frenzy as it is. Let’s take a step back and understand viruses better, and hopefully that’ll give us some context for all of the news about COVID.

First of all, viruses are the only non-living thing that contains DNA (or in some cases, RNA). Even though have their own DNA, they aren’t considered alive because they require host cells to reproduce. Their mission is to find someone with some functional cellular hardware, so that their little virus bodies can cling onto the cell and harness its power for its own purposes.

Interestingly, this process of cellular hijacking does not generally cause the symptoms associated with viral illness, rather the immune system’s fight against the virus causes symptoms like fever, runny nose, headaches, inflammation, etc. The virus does generally kill the host cell though, so a widespread virus can certainly cause deterioration of the tissue it infects. Through the process of hijacking and reproduction, the virus exponentially replicates itself in a host body and unfortunately makes its host sicker along the way.

Clearly, viruses have a unique method to their genetic propagation. And as much as they’ve negatively impacted public health in many cases, they’ve also proved useful in microbiology and genetic research. I personally used viral vectors in my undergrad research, trying to find the best conditions for certain vectors to enter host lactobacillus bacteria. (was slightly more thrilling than it sounds!). Viruses are excellent at inserting their genetic material into cells, so through them we can edit a genome. We are not in a place yet where we can edit unwanted material out of a full, living human, and maybe we shouldn’t ever go there! But as we do move into further gene editing research, those developments will ride on the backs of viruses.

So there’s a little info about our tiny viral frenemies. Be safe in this time of outbreak, wash your hands, and don’t live in fear!

Yes, I went to NYC without wearing a mask.
No, a mask won’t protect you from COVID19!

Let me know what genetic topics you want covered! I look forward to discussing genetic disease, healthcare ethics, and more. I’m glad to be back.

-Laura Cooper-Hastings

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