SU course: Structure and dynamics of biological membrane

The second course at Stockholm University is that of Structure and Dynamics of Biological Membrane. The course focuses on the importance of interaction between lipids and the membrane proteins.

This course has a lot of Biochemistry involved. It covers a range of topics and relates them to the biological membranes i.e. lipid bi-layer and the its significance. The course starts with an introduction of types of lipids and their basic structures. Further, their ability to form membranes and various composition of those membranes to hold and facilitate different kind of membrane proteins. The next part was the study of the membrane proteins that populate these membranes and how they fold and insert into the membrane.

Protein translocation lecture – Insertion of membrane protein as depicted in by the interaction of 3D crystal structures, giving an insight into the structural information

After understanding the energetics of membrane protein folding and insertion, we explored various organelles, and the variety of enzyme complex systems that it has to offer, which are (yes, you guessed it correctly) membrane proteins. The most basic systems such as respiration in plants (plant photosystems), mitochondrial respiratory complex are all examples of membrane protein (enzyme) complexes, that play the most crucial role of energy production.  This sounds like revising the basics, however, with great structural and mechanistic insights into each system.

In the course we also did a group activity where we were given a protein and its crystal structure. Based in this we had to determine the function and the mechanism of the protein. The goal was to experience the real life problems faced by a structural biologist and understand the ways adopted to decode the structure based functional mystery. In the demo lab, we test one of these membrane protein to show that they follow Michaelis-Menten kinetics using an artificial system that mimics the actual system very closely.

Further, the instructors of the course are themselves researchers and they are very enthusiastic to tell us about various new advance techniques some of which are developed in their own labs. Most of the lecturers are leading researchers in their own field who have developed some of the first techniques or have come up with the first ever idea revolutionizing the field. To mention one such name is Dr. Gunnar von Heijne. His research on the signal peptide and membrane proteins has been a breakthrough.

Learning from such lecturers reminds me of a famous saying that goes – ‘Hearing from the horse’s mouth’!

Lecture on signal peptide – a breakthrough

Even though the course is very specific, it has enabled us to explores a different aspect of biology that was unknown to many of us to this depth.

Attending such lectures is a different experience in itself, learning about various breakthroughs from experts themselves, gives me an adrenaline rush while encouraging me to be at their place some day!

Transport in Stockholm

The transport and its efficiency tells a great deal about the city. There are multiple ways to transit within the city of Stockholm. People in Sweden are very health conscious, so they prefer to walk or cycle to work. However, taxis and electric scooters are available on rent at various places in the city to move around. However the easiest and the best way to transit in Stockholm is to use public transport, as most of the options in peak winter become difficult to use due to extreme weather conditions.

SL ferry ride

Public transport in Stockholm is run and maintained by private sector. The main public transport company is SL. Apart from SL there are other companies such as MTR, etc. However, the city is very well connected by transport service of SL. SL has buses (buss), metro (tunnelbana), ferry, trams, trains (pendaltag)  and light rail.

SL access card

Tickets are available for each of this transport mode. However, the best option for a long term stay is to buy a monthly pass. An adult monthly pass costs 890 SEK. However, as an university student, discounted rate apply, which is 590 SEK per month. It is important to have a valid student ID card, with the SL logo on it to use the discounted tickets. The student ID can be obtained after registering as a member of the student union at any one of the Universities.

A monthly pass can be used to access any and every mode of transport offered by SL in the city of Stockholm. Further, the same can be used to get extension tickets to Uppsala. Furthermore, recently, the SL service has also included the ferry trips to the island of Vaxholm in the Stockholm archipelago.

The access card is literally the most useful thing to move in and around Stockholm. It is as I like to say :

One card to ride them all

Semla Day!

Semla day or as the Swedes call it – Fettisdagen is just another excuse to get fat. Literally, it is called Fat Tuesday in many countries. People typically eat Semla or fettisdagsbulle on this day to celebrate last day before the start of the Lenten fast.

The orthodox church follows the Lenten fasting tradition, where they believe to prepare for the Easter prayers and practice penance. Thus, in order to have the last sweet before the start of the long fast, the Fat Tuesday or Semla Day is celebrated.

Creme filled semlaaa!

However, in today’s day, the Semla day is an occasion for colleagues, families, and friends to come together while enjoy sweet buns made of Almond paste filled with whipped cream and sharing their lives with each other.

Just like everyone else, we celebrated Semla day at Scilife Labs where I work as an intern in Friedlander Lab. Here’s a picture of me with my PI and other lab members enjoying Semla!

PC: Vaishnovi

Winter shopping for Sweden

Scandinavian winters are known to be one of the coldest winters. The temperatures in major cities like Stockholm and Uppsala can drop to -15 to -20 degree C. Thus, preparing oneself for this in advance is very important.

Absolutely essential winter wear one might need for daily city life is a good winter jacket and a good pair of shoes. I strongly recommend buying these two things from Stockholm or Sweden and not from any other place, as the specific products are better available here and one can get a wider variety and price range.

Before telling more about what to buy, let me tell you something about the weather conditions. First and foremost let me start by telling you that the extreme negative temperatures of -15 or -20°C last maximum for a period of a week, typically in the month of December or January and that too late at nights. So it is a rare possibility that one might actually have to be outside when it is -20°C. However, facing -10°C is quite common during peak months of winter. So having a mental preparedness surely helps to get through most part of the winters with just enough winter wear.

Apart from negative temperatures, one can experience high wind speeds both in and around the city, as there are many open landscapes. Typically on a windy day the wind speeds are in the range of 18-25 kmph. So, most of the times it is not the cold temperature, but the freezing gushes of wind that makes it difficult to go out.

Now that you have an idea of the weather conditions, the need for the good and specific type of winter wear will be self explanatory.

Jackets

Buying a good winter jacket is of utmost importance. A jacket needs to be water-proof and thick enough to resist the winds and keep inside warm. The winter jackets are typically quite thick, as they have a sandwich architecture.

Note how thick and fluffy the winter jackets look

The outer and the inner most layers act as the envelope in which the warm material is filled. It is this material that makes all the difference. The best material that one can get is ‘Down’, except fur of course. The winter coats have different percentage of Down blended with cotton or other materials.

Product description- Down material filling in the sandwich

The description of this is mentioned on the product and can also be inquired from the staff at the stores. Good winter jackets can be brought at a starting range of 1000 to 1500 SEK (after discount).

Winter jacket

Stadium, Stadium Outlet, Decathlon, Intersport, XXl, are names of few stores where one can buy good winter jackets at discounted price. I personally recommend to check out Stadium Outlet (note that it is separate from the Stadium store), as it has many products at discounted prices throughout the year.

Warm inner body wear are also easily available in any of the above mentioned stores.

Other useful things: Neck-warmer, scarf, winter cap.

These are equally important, but can be bought easily at any of the above mentioned store and no specifications are required while buying them.

Shoes

Feet are the one of the places that get cold the fastest and keeping them warm is equally important. Further, once it starts snowing and ice deposits, it can be really slippery. Thus, having a good pair of shoes is mandatory.

While buying shoes, there are two main things that need to be taken care of : A) sole of the shoes B) Length and the inner lining. Continue reading

Afternoon tea at Rosendal’s Garden cafe

The winter in Stockholm can be quite depressing as most of the days there is little or no sunlight. Eventually in February, it is when the sun starts to re-appear slowly and the temperature gradually rises to positive degrees. It is this time when everyone on the streets stop for a moment to absorb the mild warmth from the rays of the sun. So just like everyone else, my classmates and I too decided to go out to absorb some sun (may be some Vitamin D) and enjoy this weather.

Especially, after the intensive and taxing course of bioinformatics, we were longing to take a break and just enjoy the outdoors after a very long and cold winter.

We went to Rosendal’s garden situated opposite to the Nordiska Museet (Nordik Museum) and right next to the Stockholm’s open air museum and zoo – Skansen.

The park has a long walking track around a lake. As it was still the end of winter, it is not just warm enough yet to melt the frozen lake completely, as a result one can see some ice floating in the water, and thin layers of ice at the edges untouched.

The layers of frozen waves on the shore of the lake

Inside the park there are some interesting structures, like the one that you see in the pictures below.

Castle or a cafe?

Going further inside one encounters small green house like structures made of glass. These structures accommodate a nursery, a cafe and sitting area.

Inside green houses – sitting area

There are also some tables outside. However, we decided to enjoy the warmth of green house, that had fancy table chair arrangement as opposed to a barn table placed outside in the open. The cafe has some snacks, sweet dishes and various beverages like coffee, varieties of tea and a bar.

Us, enjoying snacks in the warmth of green house                                                                                                                      PC: Vijay

Surrounding the green houses are many plantations, unfortunately, we did not see any, as they were all dead after being exposed to the harsh Swedish snow filled winters. But I was able to imagine how beautiful it would look during peak spring!

Beautiful walkways in the park

This visit in the garden not just reminded me of the time when I first arrived in Sweden in August when it was still sunny and warm and when the the nature was in full bloom; but also filled me with excitement for the approaching spring season!