New Orleans – New Science

The end of the month will mark 8 years post hurricane Katrina. 

We take a look at the science that is being done in New Orleans. And how this city can teach us that music and science are very similar!

This summer marks the 8th year post hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It all happened during the last days of august 2005 and it was a tragedy that will not be forgotten for many years to come. I was recently in New Orleans and more than searching for the signs of the hurricane’s devastation, I decided to concentrate on the good side of this great city. It was easy because New Orleans has a lot for you – especially if you enjoy music. But to me, New Orleans has more to offer and it’s something that is not that different form good music: it’ good science.

NO-cópia NOII-cópia

My photos don’t do justice to the superb French Quarter Festival. You really have to be there and sing and dance. credits: Ana Costa

For the three days that I was in NOLA , I went to outdoor festivals and Jazz clubs; while sitting and enjoying jambalaya, gumbo, or beignets, I got to listen to jazz players, sometimes solo, other times with great bands. I also bought a bunch of CDs either from music stores with impressive collections, from the market standings next to fruits and souvenirs, or from the players themselves, which were my favorites as it meant I could ask for an autograph! Being surrounded by “all that jazz”, I couldn’t help comparing music and science. Why did they seem so similar to me?

Both in music and science, if you don’t like one genre, you always find something else that excites you. As jazz will not please a line dance aficionado, molecular biology may bore to death the proud owner of a 10inch telescope. I also realized that, as music, science can either be very close or very far fro your life. Take the French Quarter as an example: you cannot ignore music while walking down Boubon Street. However, when your trip is over and you go back to your home town, music may disappear from your daily routine and you may find it difficult to keep in touch with the Cajun in you. The same with science: you will need to be alert to discover good science near you. In the end, the recompense may come as a surprise. Let me tell you that there is a lot to be excited about in the New Orleans science scene.


Credits: Ana Costa


Credits: Ana Costa








French Quarter, NOLA. 

Tulane University is an old institution that has shaped higher education in New Orleans for more than one century. Hurricane Katrina had devastating effects on Tulane’s campuses, but impressive renewal plans allowed the University to recover An important part of Tulane today is its prosperous research, which covers various disciplines and is capable of attracting important funding, being concerned both with discoveries and with their applications. Recently, Tulane researchers have dedicated their efforts to the understanding of liver transplant compatibility. They have discovered that the race of the organ donor can be critical for the success of transplants (full aticle here)  . The authors of this study suggested that long-term survival of transplanted patients may increase if donor and recipients are racially matched. The population studied comprised African-Americans with hepatitis C, but the results are likely to be relevant when other groups are examined. Also, these results should now be considered in organ and tissue compatibility studies in general. In the future, it will be important to determine which are the key genetic factors contributing to such observations. A better molecular understanding of these mechanisms will shed light on the complex immunological phenomenon of graft rejection.

This work reminds us that research at Tulane is not disconnected from New Orleans rich history and heritage (importantly, African-Americans constituted 60% of New Orleans population in 2010, as reported by the Census bureau). In fact, another recent discovery from Tulane´s researchers also concentrated on the African-American population. It has been known for a long time that there is a high incidence of prostate cancer in African-Americans, which closely associates with mortality rates. Researchers have now focused on the analysis of gene expression and have identified molecular signatures that are expected to help predicting prostate cancer (article here) diagnosis and clinical outcome specifically among African-American men

Studies like the ones developed at Tulane University show us how human biology may differ and highlight the possible impact of those variations for the development and progression of diseases. Again, science and music look alike: diversity between us humans explains why some are more prone to cancer whereas others are more protected, but it also accounts for the jazz lovers and for those who cannot stand the sound of a saxophone (check the RACE website for if you want your thoughts on human variation to be challenged). And what better place to carry on such investigation than in a city so rich in diversity, both genetic and cultural? That has got to be New Orleans.

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