Friday, February 15, 2013

So I baked a cake

It's Darwin Day at the local biology department (February 15th) and they have a cake baking contest. It's supposed to be relevant to Darwin's work... which I suppose means it needs to be biology themed, since, you know, pretty much after you get through RNA world hypothesis you've start dealing with selection pressures. (okay, maybe you don't know, but trust me, after things start having genes, you start worrying about gene flow.)

Anyhow, this week was tremendously, heart-wrenchingly stressful and my cell biology class was offering extra credit for cakes with cell themes. I tend to make things when I'm coping with awful, so baking a cake suddenly sounded like the best idea ever. (Around midnight last night it started to seem like the worst idea ever, but what can you do...)

And so I started to bake a cake. The theme I went with was the mechanism of the highly conserved sodium/potassium transporter. It takes 3 sodium ion and puts them outside the cell in exchange for 2 potassium ions. In layman's terms, that's 3 salts out, 2 salts in, which really helps you maintain osmotic balance with the environment.(aka, it keeps the water from flooding into your cells and making them explode) If you are an animal by the simplest of definitions, which I assume you are as you are reading this, you have lots of these.

This was the original plan--4 pumps displaying the process for swapping out ions in 4 simple steps, plus a bit of membrane to separate out the pieces.

The cytoplasm (cell innards) would be blue, and needed the largest quantity of frosting, so I mixed my colors and went to town.
 Next, the extracellular fluid (the "not cell" bits) would be green. Which you can definitely perceive visually on these lovely photos taken in the dead of night by dim incandescent bulb.
 Unfortunately, the plans were derailed when this happened.
As it turns out, frosting the inside of a cake is nigh on impossible. Seriously. I even stuck the thing in the freezer to see if temporarily binding the insides with ice crystals would solve the problem (it does not). There needed to be a rapid change of plan.

Nilla wafers are the best cookie-cracker in the world. I piped in some phospholipids because the inability to frost the large cake chunks meant frosting tiny cubes would be an exercise in futility. It probably looks better this way anyhow.
 Next I added my ions (orange for sodium, pink for potassium), as well as some cute arrows to direct traffic. Next time I will not use those tubes of gel for writing on cakes. The shiny stuff doesn't stick to frosting worth a hoot. I suspect the black has some slimy coating to keep it from bleeding everywhere...
I added in my ATP, labelled everything, and crawled into bed an hour later than I should have.

Overall, a biology success. The cake itself was nice and tender, even after 18ish hours and well worth the $1.18 I paid for the white box cake mix. Self distraction=success.