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: genetics
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Intelligenetics isn’t recognized as a real word by Websters or the Oxford English dictionary. We just coined a term that might best represent the growing field of research examining the genetic basis for human intelligence. Of course, it’s not a new subject and comes with many cautionary tales. Past research into the genetic foundations of intelligence has often been misused by one group seeking racial, ethnic or political power over another. However, with strong and appropriate safeguards in place science does have a legitimate place in uncovering what makes some brains excel while others do not.
From the Wall Street Journal:
At a former paper-printing factory in Hong Kong, a 20-year-old wunderkind named Zhao Bowen has embarked on a challenging and potentially controversial quest: uncovering the genetics of intelligence....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
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Shakespeare meet thy DNA. The most famous literary figure in the English language had a recent rendezvous with that most famous and studied of molecules. Together chemists, cell biologists, geneticists and computer scientists are doing some amazing things — storing information using the base-pair sequences of amino-acids on the DNA molecule.
From ars technica:
It’s easy to get excited about the idea of encoding information in single molecules, which seems to be the ultimate end of the miniaturization that has been driving the electronics industry. But it’s also easy to forget that we’ve been beaten there—by a few billion years. The chemical information present in biomolecules was critical to the origin of life and probably dates back to whatever interesting chemical reactions preceded it....read more
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
LincRNA that is. Recent discoveries hint at the potentially crucial role of this new class of genetic material in embryonic development, cell and tissue differentiation and even speciation and evolution.
From the Economist:
THE old saying that where there’s muck, there’s brass has never proved more true than in genetics. Once, and not so long ago, received wisdom was that most of the human genome—perhaps as much as 99% of it—was “junk”. If this junk had a role, it was just to space out the remaining 1%, the genes in which instructions about how to make proteins are encoded, in a useful way in the cell nucleus....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
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Geneticists have discovered a gene that helps explain how humans and apes diverged from their common ancestor around 6 million years ago.
From the Guardian:
Researchers have discovered a new gene they say helps explain how humans evolved from chimpanzees.
The gene, called miR-941, appears to have played a crucial role in human brain development and could shed light on how we learned to use tools and language, according to scientists.
A team at the University of Edinburgh compared it to 11 other species of mammals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, mice and rats.
The results, published in Nature Communications, showed that the gene is unique to humans.
The team believe it emerged between six and one million years ago, after humans evolved from apes.
Researchers said it is the first time a new gene carried by humans and not by apes has been shown to have a specific function in the human body....read more
Monday, April 2, 2012
From Scientific American:
Well, perhaps your great-to-the-hundred-millionth-grandmother was.
Understanding the origins of life and the mechanics of the earliest beginnings of life is as important for the quest to unravel the Earth’s biological history as it is for the quest to seek out other life in the universe. We’re pretty confident that single-celled organisms – bacteria and archaea – were the first ‘creatures’ to slither around on this planet, but what happened before that is a matter of intense and often controversial debate....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
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
New research into obesity and weight loss shows us why it’s so hard to keep weight lost from dieting from returning. The good news is that weight (re-)gain is not all due to a simple lack of control and laziness. However, the bad news is that keeping one’s weight down may be much more difficult due to the body’s complex defense mechanism.
Tara Parker-Pope over at the Well blog reviews some of the new findings, which seem to point the finger at a group hormones and specific genes that work together to help us regain those lost pounds.
From the New York Times:
Friday, October 21, 2011
Would you like to know when you will die?
This is a fundamentally personal and moral question which many may prefer to keep unanswered. That said, while scientific understanding of aging is making great strides it cannot yet provide an answer to the question. Though it may only be a matter of time.
Giles Tremlett over at the Guardian gives us a personal account of the fascinating science of telomeres, the end-caps on our chromosomes, and why they potentially hold a key to that most fateful question.
From the Guardian:
As a taxi takes me across Madrid to the laboratories of Spain’s National Cancer Research Centre, I am fretting about the future. I am one of the first people in the world to provide a blood sample for a new test, which has been variously described as a predictor of how long I will live, a waste of time or a handy indicator of how well (or badly) my body is ageing. Today I get the results....read more
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Though ongoing human evolution is difficult to see, researchers believe they’ve found signs of rapid genetic changes among the recent residents of a small Canadian town.
Between 1800 and 1940, mothers in Ile aux Coudres, Quebec gave birth at steadily younger ages, with the average age of first maternity dropping from 26 to 22. Increased fertility, and thus larger families, could have been especially useful in the rural settlement’s early history.
According to University of Quebec geneticist Emmanuel Milot and colleagues, other possible explanations, such as changing cultural or environmental influences, don’t fit. The changes appear to reflect biological evolution....read more
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Several evenings a week, after a day’s work at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, Sergey Brin drives up the road to a local pool. There, he changes into swim trunks, steps out on a 3-meter springboard, looks at the water below, and dives.
Brin is competent at all four types of springboard diving—forward, back, reverse, and inward. Recently, he’s been working on his twists, which have been something of a struggle. But overall, he’s not bad; in 2006 he competed in the master’s division world championships. (He’s quick to point out he placed sixth out of six in his event.)
The diving is the sort of challenge that Brin, who has also dabbled in yoga, gymnastics, and acrobatics, is drawn to: equal parts physical and mental exertion. “The dive itself is brief but intense,” he says. “You push off really hard and then have to twist right away. It does get your heart rate going.”...read more
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.
Sunday, March 5, 2006
From Scientific American:
A handful of genes that control the body’s defenses during hard times can also dramatically improve health and prolong life in diverse organisms. Understanding how they work may reveal the keys to extending human life span while banishing diseases of old age.
You can assume quite a bit about the state of a used car just from its mileage and model year. The wear and tear of heavy driving and the passage of time will have taken an inevitable toll. The same appears to be true of aging in people, but the analogy is flawed because of a crucial difference between inanimate machines and living creatures: deterioration is not inexorable in biological systems, which can respond to their environments and use their own energy to defend and repair themselves....read more