For this week’s issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, I wrote a story about a molecular link between stress and death. The story is here. Ok, there’s a catch: You have to be a subscriber to read it, and I’m not 100% positive it’s worth $40. (It might be – the Chronicle’s got good stories.)
People have known for a long time that stress is bad for you. Having good social support isn’t just, you know, the reason to live, it’s also good for your health. The guy who did this study worked out a link in the biological chain between stress and death.
The molecule he was looking at is called a transcription factor. A transcription factor is a little protein that grabs onto a strand of DNA near a gene and says, “Hey, transcribe this gene!” In this case, the transcription factor is activated by a stress hormone and turns on a gene that makes a protein involved in inflammation, part of the immune response. Inflammation is fantastic for, like, healing cuts, but we modern humans tend to turn it on and leave it on, which leads to heart disease and other nasty stuff.
So that’s what the story’s about. This was my first time writing for the Chronicle – my editor there is a former colleague from U.S. News & World Report, and it was fun to be reunited for this story.
At the very least, you should look at the great portrait they took of the scientist. He works at UCLA, but he happened to be on campus at Stanford (my first grad school alma mater) the week they needed to take a picture of him, so this is a picture of him with one of the many Rodins that litter campus. Anyone recognize the sculpture? It’s reasonably famous.