August 24, 2006

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

On August 24th the Word of the Day (look down and to the right, it’s the small box at the bottom of the right-hand margin) just coincidentally happened to be “phagocyte.” An astute reader of this blog, who also happens to be Dutch and eats peanut butter and chocolate sprinkle sandwiches, remembered that I have more than a casual relationship with phagocytes.

In one of the best classes I ever took in college, The Microbiology of Cancer and Aids, we studied phagocytes. One in particular struck my fancy: it was the macrophage, and it has a terrific job. Its sole function is to troll around the body bumping into things – other cells, especially. If it ever bumps into a cell it doesn’t recognize, like a newly invaded virus, for instance, it immediately eats the cell.

But not all of it; it eats most of the cell, but leaves a little bit over, which the macrophage then sticks to its outer membrane for display. Its second general order – after bump into things and eat what you don’t recognize – is to take the piece of its most recent meal to other white blood cells, whose job is to examine the leftovers to determine if an all-out immune response is necessary.

This process was described to us by our professor Albey Reiner, who is as close to comedian Steven Wright as a Harvard educated Microbiology professor can get. In his dry, monotone voice he contextualized the macropghage for us by suggesting that we each go to the dining hall and have lunch, slap a piece of our lunch onto our foreheads for the rest of the day, and see if anyone can recognize what we ate.

I loved every bit of this; the macrophage, the professor, the showing people what you ate for lunch... there was nothing about any of this that didn't strike me as pure genius.

And it also made for a fabulous Halloween costume back in 1998.

(click to enlarge)

Kudos to Theresa (not pictured) and Sonia (on the far right wearing Monica Lewinsky's blue dress back from the cleaners) who like everyone else that night was baffled by what I could possibly be portraying, yet eventually sussed it out. Theresa, with her biology background, and Sonia who went on to an impressive career in medicine, sat staring at me for some time until, hesitantly Theresa offered “are you a… white blood cell?” to which Sonia screamed “oh my god, you’re a phagocyte!”

In San Francisco you have to watch who you call a phagocyte.

That's a freshly-made grilled cheese sandwich on my forehead, which in addition to being a source of amusement all evening, made for a welcome late-night snack on the way home.


At 8:24 AM, Blogger Mr.T said...

Dan. The only man I know able to comfortably go around and hit on chicks with a grilled cheese sandwich stuck to his head and have it work for him. Bravo my friend. This is exactly why I love you.


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