Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vampire Phylogeny



"Teeth lengthened by receding gums glow in the shaded valleys of the Carpathian basin. The genetic milieu of the Visigoths, Huns, Carpians, and Slavic peoples have swirled over centuries as granite crags pushed populations into shallow gene pools. A ghoulish thing of legend emerged from Transylvania and has since soaked literature and pop-culture with a reddish froth. Science and medicine have given us reason not to fear for our necks in a story that is truly stranger than fiction... "

Thus begins one of my most successful Blog Posts.  The idea to write up this particular hypothesis on a biochemical etiology of vampires was born on a fall day in 2008. A fellow graduate student at Colorado State - Nicholas Clark and I were talking about "talking about science" to the public.  We decided a useful method to engage the public would be to hook them in with a popular topic and then sneak in some hardcore biochemistry.  So we did it. We planned a "Biochemistry of Halloween" lecture and delivered it the following fall.  There were 60-70 people in attendance and the talk was wildly popular. So popular in fact that Nick and I were invited to present the talk for the Colorado State Alumni association at the Park Hill library in Denver the following year. This time there were more people from the general public and our presentation was met with even greater enthusiasm.  One of the attendees even came up to us afterwards and asked us for all our references as she was particularly interested in the porphyria/vampire hypothesis as her ex had a form of the disease and was now in jail for attempting to slit her throat with a paring knife.

After this experience I have been hesitant to present this talk because I feared it may be taken the wrong way. As if we were saying "people with porphyria are vampires." This is not what we were trying to get across. I have since finished graduate school and moved on to a postdoc at Emory University in Atlanta. Nick is Postdocing at NIST near Washington DC. 

Recently, I took it upon myself to raise the talk from the dead. I presented it at Nerd Nite Atlanta at Manuel's Tavern on October 16th, 2013.  I also amended the talk to include several disclaimers about porphyria patients and attempt to address the stigma that has recently become associated with this very serious genetic disease. I felt much better about the talk this time and it was well-received by an enthralled audience though it was not the same without Nick and his unique knowledge-set on the biochemistry of Zombies and Zombification. 

If you are interested in hearing the revamped talk I will present it in a Google Hangout this coming weekend. If you can not make it for the live performance no worries I will put up the recording right here!
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