Writing pro(gr/c)ess

February 26, 2020

Happy Wednesday! I’ve had a few writing projects other than this blog for a change (i.e. my first paper – more on that later), which have occupied a considerable amount of my time. I aspire to have the writing endurance that I think many PI’s have, but I’m not there yet. Or maybe I’m just giving them too much credit. Nevertheless, I try to write as much as possible. The more practice you get, the better, eh?

This blog is not the same as academic writing, by a long shot. PhDistance is more fun and a much more appropriate space for my off-the-cuff style that I think is my emerging writing voice. By the way, @followers, what do you think is my writing voice? It’s hard for me to tell, since I am both the speaker and the audience in my own head. I probably hear myself differently. Hello?? I digress…

So yes, back on track to academic writing. I’m writing a paper about my favorite protein called, Kon-tiki, and how it mediates methylmercury toxicity in Drosophila muscle development. Seems like a lot to unpack, I know. Let me explain…

First off, methylmercury is an organic form of a naturally occurring metal in our environment. It is exceptionally toxic during development in many species; from humans to invertebrates like the humble fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Drosophila are the “model organism” I rely on to help answer my research questions about developmental toxicity of methylmercury. I use them because they have short life cycles, have a well documented development, and are relatively low maintenance.

The fly is also optically tractable, which is essential for most of my imaging-based experiments. What I do is visualize muscle development in flies that have been exposed to methylmercury, and then try to explain the underlying cause of the pathology I observe. The most striking feature is a muscle detachment from tendon. I think that the fly myotendinous junction is failing during development, such that it detaches and recoils away from the site of attachment, similar to a stretched rubber band that is then cut.

This concept is also a runner’s nightmare: this is what happens with Achilles tendon rupture. The Achilles tendon connects the Gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles) to the calcaneus (heel bone), and when it ruptures, the muscle literally recoils away. Last year at this time, I was nursing some Achilles tendinosis. I had to take time off of running and missed Boston, but that was minor compared to a full-on rupture that others have experienced . When I count my blessings, I count each individual fibril of tendon, twice 🤷🏻‍♀️

Achilles’ tendon rupture

This brings us to my friend, kon-tiki, which is a key component of the fly muscle-tendon (myotendinous) junction (or MTJ, academics love acronyms…). A major difference between flies and humans is that the MTJ of the former connects muscle to tendon to exoskeleton, whereas the latter have an “endo”skeleton. Nevertheless, many of the other important things that comprise the MTJ are strikingly similar. My research hypothesizes that the reason that methylmercury causes muscle detachment in the fly is because kon-tiki is affected. I do not necessarily think that this is what happens in humans, but I do think that developing tissues which express the human version of kon-tiki may be extra sensitive to methylmercury toxicity.

The paper I am writing will make this idea “real.” I won’t post any pictures on here – sorry! But I will try to when it is published 😊! The paper is progressing well, but it’s pretty hard, in my opinion. Like I said, academic writing isn’t fun. I still try to make it fun, but then I get these sorts of edits back from Matt:


The hardest things for me during the writing process have been 1) not taking edits too personally 2) crafting figures that are aligned properly and 3) sitting down to write. The last one seems silly, but I think sometimes it’s hard to just start.

@academic friends, what were hardest for you?

@runner friends, I apologize for any injury-related PTSD this post may have caused.

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Toxicology graduate student, marathon runner,and fly-person (#Drosophilove).