Brannon’s Bone Blog Beats Boring Bone Books

This is Frank, my high school’s resident skeleton-in-the-closet.

Let’s face it, reading scholarly articles (especially those published in medical journals and other scientific journals) can seem, well, a little boring.  Ok, Ok, maybe a lot boring.  And if you are anything like me you’ve been wanting a more exciting, fun way to access scientific literature.  That’s the goal of this experimental project, to make the research that seems mundane and ordinary to the majority of us more fun to read and accessible by all!  This blog will be a gateway to a new world for most of you who take the time to explore it.  This new world, one full of wondrous advances in our understanding of how bones form and function, should help those of you whose only experience interacting with the mammalian skeletal system was messing around with the plastic skeleton in high school science class to more fully understand just how the intricacies of mammalian skeletal development and function can help you to realize the importance of your bones.

For starters, let’s talk about why your skeleton is important.  Now we all know that our bones help support the weight of the rest of our bodies, but did you also know that bones facilitate many of the most important functions of any organ in the body?  Do you remember, for example, that your bones are responsible for making blood?  Do you like having blood in your body?  Yeah?  I thought so, and you have your skeletal system to thank for that.  And moving, i.e. the physical act of re-positioning your body through the use of muscle power, is made possible by your bones.  Your bones act as anchors for the majority of your muscles and also act as levers, giving you strength that invertebrates can only dream of.

A very spooky skeleton car (sculpture created by Jitish Kallat, use protected under Fair Use)

You can think of the human body like a car, with the muscles and many other organs acting as the engine, the brain as the driver, and the skeleton as the giant metal safety cage that not only protects every other component of the vehicle, but also provides structure and support to the rest of the vehicle, allowing it to travel down the road.  Without this structure, you, as a human, would be useless.

Now, compared to most other organ systems (like the lungs, heart, brain, skin, etc.), the mammalian skeletal system isn’t very well understood.  The scientific journal Nature didn’t have a journal specifically targeting bone research until 2013!  There are many common diseases, such as tuberous sclerosis and osteoporosis associated with bone development and maintenance which have few if any truly effective treatments simply because many of the biological pathways which drugs could affect aren’t known thoroughly enough.  This is where my research comes into play.  I study the molecular pathways which your bone cells use to develop properly, mostly through the manipulation of targeted genes in knockout mice and the phenotypic (i.e. how the looks and acts) outcomes which result from it.  This is just a fancy way of saying that I take mice, screw around with some of their DNA, and then see what happens.  In my upcoming posts, I will be breaking down exactly what my research is based, how exactly a scientific goal like mine is pursued, and what I am figuring out about our bones, so stay tuned!


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