Friday, December 12, 2008

Breaching Genetic Privacy?

Since the human genome was sequenced, many people have argued for the development of a national DNA database; basically every baby born would have their DNA sequenced and stored in a computer database. Many others perceive this idea as a terrifying privacy issue. This article is about a recent ruling in the United States that will expand the current practice of collecting genetic information from convicted felons. Immigration and civil liberties groups are condemning this policy to collect DNA samples from all noncitizens detained by authorities and all people arrested for federal crimes.What do you think?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Genetic testing to determine if Little Johnny should be a sprinter or marathoner?

This article talks about a single human gene affecting whether muscles are better suited for speed and power (such as sprinting) or longer-term strength, such as distance swimming or running marathons. There's now a commercially available genetic test, so parents now have the capacity to figure out which types of sports might best suit their child's genetic makeup. Is this the direction in which our world is moving? Are there ethical issues here? Would you test your kids?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pregnant Man is Pregnant Again

Here is a story of Thomas Beattie - a "man" expecting his second child. This story is getting lots of media attention, though not many are really talking about the biology behind the story. Thomas was born a woman, but went through surgery and hormone treatment to become a male. He stopped taking hormones (testosterone in particular) to become pregnant.

An interesting situation pops up here.....Thomas is legally a man, though biologically female, and is married to a woman. But how do those favoring Prop 8 feel about this?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Frequency of blood types in different countries

Wikipedia lists the frequencies of different blood types in a number of countries across the globe. It's kind of interesting to see some of the regional differences. For instance, in China/Hong Kong and South Korea, it is extremely rare to have Rh- blood type. What might that mean for a person with Rh- blood who was traveling in those countries and needed a blood transfusion? Ireland has by far the largest percentage of O+ blood compared with any other country - it is notably higher than listed for the UK - what might that have to do with Ireland being an island nation? I wish there was data for some African countries and/or Southeast Asia...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another article just in time for Halloween

I ran across this article in the NY Times, Still Spooked by High-fructose Corn Syrup. As a person who loves chocolate chip cookies and Dr. Pepper and basically a weakness for sweet stuff, I wasn't spooked until reading this article. A little food for thought before consuming all that halloween candy!

A Modern Day "Monkey Trial"

In 2004 the Dover Board of Education voted to include "Intelligent Design" in the science curriculum. This led to a historic First Amendment trial. Laurie Lebo, a reporter who covered the trial has written a book, "The Devil in Dover" about these events and trial. This fits directly in with our discussions about evolution and intelligent design. Read the interview and post a comment!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NFL players plagued with antibiotic-resistant Staph infections.

Here's a real life example of something we talked about at the beginning of the year - the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In this case, many NFL players have been diagnosed with a particularly virulent strain of Staph known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Certain teams, such as the Cleveland Browns, seem to be particularly heavy hit by this dangerous infection. Read the article linked above to find out more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Just in time for Halloween!

Well here's a fun little article to get your blood flowing, so to speak! Maybe Dracula had it right all along??? Read "A Taste for Blood!"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fish Fossil Yields Anatomical Clues on How Animals of the Sea Made It to Land

This article, published this week in the NY Times, describes new fossil finds that expand our understanding of how early vertebrates made the transition from water to land. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A beautiful example of how chemistry and biology are intertwined!

The Nobel prize in Chemistry was awarded today to three guys who developed fluorescent proteins. This article provides a cool slideshow demonstrating many uses for this protein, along with a discussion of it's development. These fluorescent proteins have been used as markers, allowing biologists to figure out many critical biochemical pathways within cells. The mechanism by which ATP synthase (which we are currently discussing in class) leads to the production of ATP, for example, was elucidated using these markers. Check it out!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Evolution of Eukaryotic Cells

Suppose you run into a long lost cousin at a family event who turns out to be a proponent of Intelligent Design. According to your cousin, who is a Biology student in Alabama, eukaryotic cells are a prime example of irreducible complexity, as there are no intermediates between very simple prokaryotic cells and the much more complex eukaryotic cells. Based on your reading about Lynn Margulis and SET, respond to your cousin's assertion that eukaryotic cells are a good example of ID.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Does Evolution make you feel uneasy?

Read this interesting article about Intelligent Design.

Consider this quote from the article, made by Michael Behe, who is a proponent of Intelligent Design.

"It matches what a lot of people see. It matches peoples' intuitions about biology," said Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania."

Also consider this comment from Dr. Kenneth Miller, who opposes teaching Intelligent Design in the science classroom.

"The movement's success comes from the way it "appeals to peoples' sense of unease about science and technology," said Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.'

Can you personally relate to either of these statements? Do you feel uncomfortable with science and technology? Do you feel that the Theory of Natural Selection is inconsistent with your intuitive sense of life? Please use the comment box below to elaborate your thoughts on these issues.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Learning is a Process, Not an Event!

Welcome to CPS Biology! We are genuinely looking forward to spending a fun and exciting year with all of you!

Though many people don't appreciate this, Biology is the most complex of scientific disciplines. Biological entities are marvels of complexity - they are composed of large, complicated molecules, some of which have amazing characteristics, such as the ability to replicate themselves! These complex molecules then come together in any of millions of possible combinations to undergo chemical reactions that we recognize as life processes. Because of this immense complexity, it's been a bigger challenge for biologists to find general principles to organize and simplify their subject than chemists and physicists. However, we do have one overarching idea that synthesizes all of the complexity we find in the biological world, and gives us a framework for making sense of it all. This is the modern Theory of Evolution, stemming largely from the work of Charles Darwin during the middle of the 19th century. We will begin the semester with a consideration of Darwin's ideas to set the stage for the rest of the semester. At the end of the term, we will come back to the topic of evolution from a more modern perspective, armed with information about molecular genetics that were not available to Darwin and other earlier biologists.

Because Biology is so complex, it takes a lot of effort to really "get it." And we expect you to get it! We have crafted this course to encourage you to really think. None of the topics we consider can really be understood without reference to every other topic we discuss, so you will need to constantly reconsider, recalibrate, reorganize what you think you know, building an ever more complete understanding of how amazing living things really are! We know from experience that you cannot do this if you simply show up in class, listen to us talk for 45 minutes, and then forget about it all until the next day. We can't possibly do more than skim the tip of the iceberg during class, there simply isn't time. We can give you structure, walk you through the most complicated ideas, and supply you with some additional resources. But you'll need to do a lot more on your own to really do well and to really build a solid foundation of understanding. You'll need to do your reading religiously, and while you are doing it, have your notes out, think about what we discussed in class. When a question pops into your mind about what we've been talking about, jump online and see what Wiki or other references can tell you about the answers. Read over the articles and other resources we provide you with, and ponder how they tie in with class material. Talk to us! Talk to each other! Explain things to your parents! While the complexity of biology makes it challenging, the good news is, it's so completely relevant to your life. The processes we discuss this semester are literally those that keep you alive from minute to minute. What could possibly be more interesting and exciting?

So, your motto for this class, coined by Bernie Shellem, is "Learning is a Process, Not an Event!" Don't treat this class as a daily "event" that you show up for and then forget about. Make it a part of how you look at the world. It isn't hard.