Archive for December, 2009
Kim Peek (November 11, 1951 – December 19, 2009) was an inconceivably gifted savant. In today’s terms we might describe him as a living version of Google, but far better. He could of course, give you driving directions to any place in the country, and open the entire course of human history with names, dates, facts and figures to astonishing accuracy, but he was more than this, he was a person. He was a person doing things that no one would think a person could do, and that is the signature of savantism.
It is important to remember that savantism is More >
Cancer cells have mutations in their genes that render them unable to respond to signals that regulate cell division. These cells grow uncontrollably and can invade normal tissue in other locations of the body and cause disrupted functions of major organs. This is why cancer is so deadly.
A mutagen is a physical or chemical substance that can alter genetic material in cells. DNA can be damaged or changed (mutated). Cancer cells have changes in the genes themselves. These changes More >
We have several holiday traditions at my house, which include baking cookies, decorating the house, and of course the tree. I have a love-hate relationship with my Christmas tree every year. Not a holiday season goes by without me cursing the tree and its insidious needles throughout the house. Oh, and don’t forget the ornaments that the dog just can’t keep out of her mouth. But the smell of the tree is all I need to get in the holiday spirit!
Interestingly enough, the Spruce, a very common Christmas tree species, has seven times more DNA than a human. How is that, you More >
A good friend of mine recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. In searching for an appropriate gift, I came across a book by Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback called Bad Baby Names. The book trawls through 40 years of U.S. census data to catalog some of the most disastrous names bestowed upon American children. Examples include Acne Fountain, Emma Royd, Fanny Pack, Nice Carr, and Post Office.
Many hours of belly laughs later and I began to feel rather guilty. How terrible it must be to labor through life as Super Mann. How the schoolyard must cackle when Garage More >
Today there is a huge concern about obesity. It is a medical condition characterized by excessive body fat accumulated to a point where it has become a health issue. It is associated with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and heart disease – ultimately leading to reduced life expectancy. Obesity is a condition that can be caused by inactivity, excessive consumption of calories, or a genetic predisposition.
Scientists have used genome-wide studies to define a relationship between body mass index and polymorphisms in the FTO gene (Fat Mass and Obesity Associated Gene). Recently, insights into the function of the More >
One of the most difficult concepts to teach anyone is the relationship between evolution and adaptation. The majority of people I have worked with, both adults and children, are confused about this to some extent. Let’s first create a simple story to frame our discussion.
Once upon a time, in a forest with leaves and soil on the ground, there is a family of rabbits. Many animals live in this forest, including several predators for the rabbits. The mom and dad are both brown rabbits and most of their rabbit children are also brown. One of the children was born with More >
Engineering students at Edinburgh University have created bacteria that can be used to detect landmines! The cheaply engineered bacteria can be mixed into a colorless fluid which would be sprayed over suspect soil. Chemicals that leak out of old landmines stimulate the bacteria to make a green protein, producing large patches of bright green where bacteria encounter explosive material.
According to the United Nations, between 15,000 and 20,000 people are injured or killed by landmines that litter more than 80 countries including Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The bacteria would likely fail to identify those mines that do not leak, and would detect More >
Recently on The Colbert Report, in typically tongue in cheek fashion, “You-genics” was highlighted in “The Word” segment (October 28, 2009). Colbert’s discussion was tied in with our nation’s current health care debate – who is and isn’t coverable, what constitutes a pre-existing condition, and how to breed an insurable individual. Taken literally, Colbert’s words didn’t sound far off from those of proponents of the eugenics movement itself. Taken as intended, we see that a sense of humor can offer a unique perspective on anything.
Not surprisingly, eugenicists considered sense of humor as a trait to be studied, and the archive More >
Remember Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button? Benjamin’s disorder, that had him being born looking like an 80-year-old man and “reverse aging” to pass away as a baby? Well, while I still am not aware of a real disorder that causes this kind of a phenomenon, there is a disorder that indeed makes people age much faster than normal: Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (Progeria for short), which is about to be depicted in a movie of its own.