October 6, 2006 at 8:16 am | Posted in Big Bang, gene silencing, gene transcription, genetics, Nobel, small RNA | Leave a comment
The first announced Nobel prize of 2006 was for work in medicine/physiology, recognising work done in the field of genetics. We had thought that we had all the basics down pat as far as genetics is concerned, when along came the lowly petunia to shake us out of our complacency. It turns out that tiny bits of genetic material (small RNA) can silence genes even after the gene has been read-off on its way to being expressed by a cell. Even more surprising was that the same basic ‘silencing’ mechanism is also active in animal cells.
The implications are enormous. On the one hand there is now potential to externally modify individual gene expression and that will have a lot of bearing on treating some sorts of genetic diseases. On the other hand, individual gene action can now be much more easily studied helping us to make sense out of the massive amount of data that became available when entire genomes have been sequenced.

Moving from tiny fragments of RNA to the universe at large, the next prize to be announced was in physics. The study of ‘background’ microwave radiation has helped to flesh out the Big Bang theory enabling physicists to better study the very earliest stages of the creation of our universe.


Biodiversity and taxonomy

August 14, 2006 at 10:55 am | Posted in bacteria, biotechnology, classification, endangered species, gene silencing, genome, taxonomy | Leave a comment

Life in all its variety has always fascinated humans. Language and naming go hand in hand. And that’s really all there is to taxonomy: the laws of classifying names. There are numerous schemes for classifying the names of living creatures none of which should deter us from our tendency to name the creatures of this world!

The job is far from over for new species are being named daily especially amongst the numerous “lower” forms of life. Recently, a scientist concluded that we know (have named) only 10% of the bacteria. Another recent little tidbit was that we “know” only about 12,000 species of ant but it is supposed that twice this number of species may actually exist!

Taxonomy has become unpopular as a subject of study in recent years. Subjects like cell biology, biochemistry and immunology are where careers in science are to be made. The trend away from taxonomy has been around for over 30 years, many grad students in those days ended up without jobs after spending years of doing intense study on taxonomy.

Sad but true. But, I believe that taxonomy will someday see a revival for it is tied to such a basic human instinct. If we knew why we are so fascinated with names we may understand our selves a lot better. Science started from taxonomy and someday we will rediscover the joy and importance of what makes a species what it is, and the importance of maintaining that identity.

Today’s assault comes partly from biotechnology; take a gene from this genome and stick into that one and lets see if we can’t ‘improve’ this form of life, or at least make it more useful – in my opinion very short sighted, and highly dangerous! So, let’s get back to respecting life and respecting ourselves a bit.

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