“There is Always a Path,” Science Outreach, and Chlamydia

This title suggests a blog post that’s all over the place, right? Well, I wanted to talk about all three aspects covered in one faculty seminar this summer so hold on to your hats. Whee!

I’ve truly enjoyed all of the faculty speakers this summer; it was great to hear about their individual paths to Duke, and to learn about their research and how they got interested in their specific fields. I ultimately decided to choose Dr. Raphael Valdivia to talk about, though Dr. Kontos, Dr. Williams, and Dr. Gersbach were all close runners-up (for very different reasons!).

Dr. Valdivia’s talk resonated with me for multiple reasons. Most importantly, Dr. Valdivia was adamant that if you are willing to put in the effort and seize available opportunities, you can achieve anything you are striving for. As he said, “There is always a path.” As someone whose mantra has been “hard work always pays off” ever since I practiced a beam routine for a gymnastics meet 30+ times and placed first for it eight years ago, hearing a researcher at Duke speak similarly about getting where he is today was encouraging. He also offered some unique advice, such as being open to new experiences as a scientist and not becoming comfortable with just working in the lab day in and day out, and reading papers outside your area of expertise for new ideas.

Another topic Dr. Valdivia touched on was scientific outreach efforts, and the importance of educating the public on scientific matters. This is also something I’m very interested in, because there is so much misinformation out in the vast and shifting oceans of the World Wide Web. As an avid reader of food blogs, I’ve seen a lot of blogs promoting various lifestyles for optimal health, which is great. . . until they spread false or poorly researched information, influencing their sometimes huge following of readers into believing things like, oh, cooking honey makes it toxic (http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/is-cooking-honey-unhealthy/).

Here’s a paragraph that’s a particular gem in case you were too lazy to click the link:*

“In addition, Ayurvedic dietary principles warn that consuming honey that has been cooked, baked or added to hot liquids contributes to ill health over time. The reason is because honey that is cooked becomes like glue. The molecules then tend to adhere to mucous membranes in the digestive tract producing toxins, called ama. The literal meaning of ama is undigested food or toxins stuck within the digestive tract. It is considered to be the root cause of most ill health in Ayurveda with heated honey one of the most difficult forms to detoxify.”

All right. Okay. Someone has clearly never learned the basics of human digestion, yet is acting like an expert and causing this information to be circulated. And the author’s readers thank her for sharing this IMPORTANT information, never again to expose honey to any form of heat before consuming it for fear of coating their GI tract with honey glue.


Science outreach is incredibly important to preventing misinformation like this being spread, and it’s something I hope to try getting more involved in beyond posting comments attempting to refute information on blogs.

I went off on a tangent there, but I’ll get back to Dr. Valdivia now to wrap up because what he studies is also cool: chlamydia infections. Chlamydia bacteria can infect a cell and prevent it from undergoing apoptosis in response to this rude intruder. Thus, when the cell divides, it splits into two cells with the chlamydia bacteria. Then those divide, and so on, resulting in scores of cells infected with the freeloading bacteria. Dr Valdivia’s lab studies how the bacteria take over and prevent cell death from occurring, and he showed us a few videos of cells dividing and spreading the chlamydia. Microbiology is just the coolest!

Thanks for sharing your science, words of wisdom, and path to success, Dr. Valdivia!

*Just for fun, here is another one of my favorite misinformation/pseudoscience posts by a food blogger who clearly never took a science class:


This is a hilarious post for multiple reasons, not least of which she’s bashing airplanes for not having the air in the cabin be 100% pure oxygen (omg there’s nitrogen being pumped in too! *Gasp,* it’s a conspiracy)

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