EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Tag Archives: biology
Thursday, May 30, 2013
For centuries biologists, zoologists and ecologists have been mapping the wildlife that surrounds us in the great outdoors. Now a group led by microbiologist Noah Fierer at the University of Colorado Boulder is pursuing flora and fauna in one of the last unexplored eco-systems — the home. (Not for the faint of heart).
From the New York Times:
On a sunny Wednesday, with a faint haze hanging over the Rockies, Noah Fierer eyed the field site from the back of his colleague’s Ford Explorer. Two blocks east of a strip mall in Longmont, one of the world’s last underexplored ecosystems had come into view: a sandstone-colored ranch house, code-named Q. A pair of dogs barked in the backyard....read more
Friday, May 24, 2013
Each day we inch towards a better scientific understanding of how life is thought to have begun on our planet. Over the last decade researchers have shown how molecules like the nucleotides that make up complex chains of RNA (ribonucleic acid) and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) may have formed in the primaeval chemical soup of the early Earth. But it’s altogether a much greater leap to get from RNA (or DNA) to even a simple biological cell. Some recent work sheds more light and suggests that the chemical to biological chasm between long-strands of RNA and a complex cell may not be as wide to cross as once thought.
From ars technica:...read more
Thursday, February 14, 2013
A timely article for Valentine’s Day. Researchers continue to make astonishing progress in areas of cell biology and human genomics. So, it should come as no surprise that growing a customized, replacement heart in a lab from reprogrammed cells will one day be on the horizon.
From the Guardian:
Every two minutes someone in the UK has a heart attack. Every six minutes, someone dies from heart failure. During an attack, the heart remodels itself and dilates around the site of the injury to try to compensate, but these repairs are rarely effective. If the attack does not kill you, heart failure later frequently will.
“No matter what other clinical interventions are available, heart transplantation is the only genuine cure for this,” says Paul Riley, professor of regenerative medicine at Oxford University. “The problem is there is a dearth of heart donors.”...read more
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
DNA is a remarkable substance. It is the fundamental blueprint for biological systems. It is the basis for all complex life on our planet, it enables parents to share characteristics, both good and bad, with their children. Yet the more geneticists learn about the functions of DNA, the more mysteries it presents. One such conundrum is posed by so-called junk DNA and orphan genes — seemingly useless sequences of DNA that perform no function. Or so researchers previously believed.
From New Scientist:
NOT having any family is tough. Often unappreciated and uncomfortably different, orphans have to fight to fit in and battle against the odds to realise their potential. Those who succeed, from Aristotle to Steve Jobs, sometimes change the world....read more
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Scientists and engineers at JPL have Mount Sharp in their sites. It’s no ordinary mountain — it’s situated on Mars. The 5,000 meter high mountain is home to exposed layers of some promising sedimentary rocks, which hold clues to Mars’ geologic, and perhaps biological, history. Unfortunately, Mount Sharp is 10K away from the current home of the Curiosity rover. So, at a top speed of around 100 meters per day it will take Curiosity until the fall of 2013 to reach its destination.
From the New Scientist:
NASA’S Curiosity rover is about to have its cake and eat it too. Around September, the rover should get its first taste of layered sediments at Aeolis Mons, a mountain over 5 kilometres tall that may hold preserved signs of life on Mars....read more
Monday, November 26, 2012
In 1977 Elizabeth Blackburn and Joseph Gall, molecular biologists, discovered the structure of the end caps, known as telomeres, of chromosomes. In 2009, Blackburn and colleagues Carol Greider and Jack Szostak shared the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the enzyme telomerase, the enzyme responsible for replenishing telomeres.
It turns out that telomeres are rather important. Studies shows that telomeres regulate cell division, and as a consequence directly influence aging and life span. When a cell divides the length of its chromosomal telomeres shortens. Once a telomere is depleted its chromosome, and DNA, can no longer be replicated accurately, and the cell no longer divides, hastening cell death.
From the Independent:
A blood test to determine how fast someone is ageing has been shown to work on a population of wild birds, the first time the ageing test has been used successfully on animals living outside a laboratory setting....read more
Sunday, June 24, 2012
A stem-cell biologist has had an eye-opening success in his latest effort to mimic mammalian organ development in vitro. Yoshiki Sasai of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CBD) in Kobe, Japan, has grown the precursor of a human eye in the lab.
The structure, called an optic cup, is 550 micrometres in diameter and contains multiple layers of retinal cells including photoreceptors. The achievement has raised hopes that doctors may one day be able to repair damaged eyes in the clinic. But for researchers at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Yokohama, Japan, where Sasai presented the findings this week, the most exciting thing is that the optic cup developed its structure without guidance from Sasai and his team.
“The morphology is the truly extraordinary thing,” says Austin Smith, director of the Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Cambridge, UK....read more
Monday, March 5, 2012
In the early 19th century Noah Webster set about re-defining written English. His aim was to standardize the spoken word in the fledgling nation and to distinguish American from British usage. In his own words, “as an independent nation, our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.”
He used his dictionary, which still bears his name today, as a tool to cleanse English of its stubborn reliance on aristocratic pedantry and over-reliance on Latin and Greek. He “simplified” the spelling of numerous words that he believed were contsructed with rules that were all too complicated. Thus, “colour” became “color” and “honour” switched to “honor”; “centre” became “center”, “behaviour” to “behavior”, “traveller” to “traveler”....read more
Thursday, December 8, 2011
The world lost pioneering biologist Lynn Margulis on November 22.
One of her key contributions to biology, and in fact, to our overall understanding of the development of complex life, was her theory of the symbiotic origin of the nucleated cell, or symbiogenesis. Almost 50 years ago Margulis first argued that such complex nucleated, or eukaryotic, cells were formed from the association of different kinds of bacteria. Her idea was both radical and beautiful: that separate organisms, in this case ancestors of modern bacteria, would join together in a permanent relationship to form a new entity, a complex single cell.
Until fairly recently this idea was mostly dismissed by the scientific establishment. Nowadays her pioneering ideas on cell evolution through symbiosis are held as a fundamental scientific breakthrough.
We feature some excerpts below of Margulis’ writings:
From the Edge:
Thursday, May 20, 2010
From the New Scientist:
For the first time, scientists have created life from scratch – well, sort of. Craig Venter‘s team at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, and San Diego, California, has made a bacterial genome from smaller DNA subunits and then transplanted the whole thing into another cell. So what exactly is the science behind the first synthetic cell, and what is its broader significance?
What did Venter’s team do?
The cell was created by stitching together the genome of a goat pathogen called Mycoplasma mycoides from smaller stretches of DNA synthesised in the lab, and inserting the genome into the empty cytoplasm of a related bacterium. The transplanted genome booted up in its host cell, and then divided over and over to make billions of M. mycoides cells....read more
Monday, April 26, 2010
From The New York Times:
Edward M. Marcotte is looking for drugs that can kill tumors by stopping blood vessel growth, and he and his colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin recently found some good targets — five human genes that are essential for that growth. Now they’re hunting for drugs that can stop those genes from working. Strangely, though, Dr. Marcotte did not discover the new genes in the human genome, nor in lab mice or even fruit flies. He and his colleagues found the genes in yeast.
“On the face of it, it’s just crazy,” Dr. Marcotte said. After all, these single-cell fungi don’t make blood vessels. They don’t even make blood. In yeast, it turns out, these five genes work together on a completely unrelated task: fixing cell walls.