Below you will find pages tagged “Biology”
Hypoallergenic Cats Revisited
In the process of a major overhaul of my blogs, the details of which I describe on my personal site, I revisited all of my old posts. I’ve been publishing these little essays online since 2006, and my very first science blogging post was a discussion of the then-new hypoallergenic cats from Allerca: Specifically, they’re cats that don’t express the gene for the most significant feline allergen protein. They are not clones, nor are they genetically modified in the same way many of our crops are these days, but they’re also not quite “natural.
You Can Now Autoclave Your Stomach(er)
Among the many press releases I get, some of my favorites are the unintentionally hilarious ones from specialized equipment supplier Seward, makers of the Stomacher series of sample preparation machines. To be clear, these are extremely useful pieces of equipment for anyone studying food microbiology or digestive tract pathogens. It’s just that, well, a mechanical stomach is pretty damn funny to think about. In their latest release, Seward invites laboratories worldwide to take the new Stomacher 3500 autoclavable bag for a free test drive.
A Walk on the Wild Side at Tufts Veterinary School
On a blustery day in mid-December, TWiV co-host Vincent Racaniello and I, along with friend-of-the-show Islam Hussein, visited the picturesque campus of the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, MA. Our primary job there was to record an episode of TWiV in front of a live audience, featuring Tufts researcher Jon Runstadler and members of his lab. You can check out that episode now on the TWiV site. Before the recording session, though, we got to tour New England’s only veterinary school, which occupies the former site of a state mental hospital.
75 Years of Molecular Biology
In the November 1943 issue of the journal Genetics, Salvador Luria and Max Delbrück settled a long-running but arcane debate among bacteriologists. The original paper is freely downloadable, and is an amazing document to read today. There’s a delightful innocence in the simplicity of the experimental design, the lengthy explication of the theory behind the work, and the humbleness of the authors’ conclusions. There is no hint that the paper is describing the dawn of molecular biology, a field that would revolutionize humanity’s relationship with nature in ways that are still unfolding 75 years later.
The first time it happened was a hot August day in Maryland, the kind where the nicotine-saturated air inside the tiny, heavily air-conditioned house seemed to vie with the humidity and traffic haze outside, each competing to be more noxious than the other. Late in the afternoon, as I left for my night shift summer job, the steamy transition zone at the front door hit me with a silent thud. Sweat was already starting to bead on my back as I rolled down the windows in my Datsun.
The Galàpagos Islands
For a modern reader, the most surprising thing about the Galàpagos Islands chapter in Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle is probably its brevity. Darwin describes the apparently recent volcanic origin of the place, runs through a quick list of its notable species, includes a figure of some finches’ beaks, and then departs for Tahiti. His entire visit to the islands lasted only five weeks, during a voyage of nearly five years.
Welcome to The Turbid Plaque
In 1915, the director of a veterinary hospital in London was trying to grow viruses in his lab. At the time, researchers had a general idea that viruses were some kind of ultra-small microbes. They caused diseases, but could pass through filters fine enough to remove all known bacteria. Unfortunately, nobody had figured out how to culture them. The veterinary hospital director, a physician named F. W. Twort, decided to use a brute-force approach.
Archiving Genomic Data: A Proposal
One of the big problems facing whole-genome research efforts these days is archiving. A single experiment can generate a terabyte or more of data, and while it’s all conveniently stored on hard drives in the short term, that’s a poor medium for handing down the scientific heritage of mankind. The problem is twofold: digital data storage changes constantly, and many formats that were sold as “archival” have since turned out to be alarmingly perishable.
Ever Since Fish: Traversing the Change-Time Continuum
Recently, I was talking to a researcher about a particular virus, and he mentioned that it has infected us “since fish.” Yes, fish have a time dimension. In two words, he had communicated reams of information: this virus has infected vertebrates ever since the divergence of the common ancestors of fish and mammals - somewhere around 395 million years ago. That implies that all of the species descended from those ancestors should have their own strains of the virus, which will have co-evolved alongside their host species.
If you thought the public debate over new genetic technologies couldn’t get any more muddled, just watch what happens as this product starts to show up in pet stores nationwide. Yes, that’s right, hypoallergenic cats. Specifically, they’re cats that don’t express the gene for the most significant feline allergen protein. They are not clones, nor are they genetically modified in the same way many of our crops are these days, but they’re also not quite “natural.