Elizabeth Finn's Posts

Nature, Nuture, and Social Justice

Nature, Nuture, and Social Justice

Over the past week, several articles have come to my attention for various reasons that stress the “nature” part of “nature vs. nurture”. And as I read them, I noticed that the reaction they provoked wasn’t a scientific one necessarily, but a philosophical one. Maybe even a moral one. And here’s the thing: I think that “solving” the “nature vs. nurture” debate is actually a sideline from the moral... »

Caveman genes — what our shared history with Denisovans means

Caveman genes — what our shared history with Denisovans means

A recent article in Nature determines, fairly conclusively, that a certain variant of a certain gene which allows Tibetans to thrive at high altitudes comes directly from interbreeding with Denisovans — from an extinct cousin of Homo Sapiens Sapiens. »

Life is not a ladder. Or, really, a tree.

Life is not a ladder. Or, really, a tree.

I’m going to stand on a soapbox for a second and talk about life. In particular, I’m going to talk about evolution. In a lot of common parlance, and a lot of media, we refer to evolution as something like a ladder — think the terrible image I used as my featured image. Humans are usually at the top. Even when we’re being really careful about it, we use a metaphor like a tre... »

Not-So-Jurassic Park

Not-So-Jurassic Park

Here’s a question for you: What do you get when you put a mammoth genome into an elephant egg? Is it a mammoth or an elephant or something else? And why would you do it? »

Biological Units: The Strength of A Single Cell

Biological Units: The Strength of A Single Cell

Several recent papers have proposed methods of seeing huge numbers of individual RNA molecules within a cell. I suspect that half the appeal of these methods is the beautiful images they generate. But they’re significant largely because they allow us to pick apart biology at an increasingly tiny scale — in this case, see how an individual cell functions, rather than how the average cel... »

The things we do with our eggs; reproductive health and genetic engineering

The things we do with our eggs; reproductive health and genetic engineering

This op-ed in the New York Times set off a few of my warning bells. There’s the refusal of the authors to actually state their specific fears. There’s the recourse to a rhetorical doublespeak in which “we don’t know if it’s safe” is used as an excuse for not trying the studies that could determine safety. There’s the distinction made between reproductive t... »

Stem Cells, Stressed Cells, Healing, and the Lure of Rejuvenation

Stem Cells, Stressed Cells, Healing, and the Lure of Rejuvenation

A recent study in Nature, entitled “Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency“, suggests that subjecting cells to dangerous but non-lethal conditions (such as a bath in acid, or a mechanical squeeze) can turn them into stem cells. Unsurprisingly, this publication set off a bit of a media blitz, and then it turned out that there were numerous problems with th... »

Tricking the Light Fantastic: How to Use Photons to See Something Smaller Than a Photon

Tricking the Light Fantastic: How to Use Photons to See Something Smaller Than a Photon

A while back I compared visualizing something on the nanometer scale (like, for instance, a DNA strand) with optical microscopy to trying to see what a strand of yarn looked like by throwing beach balls at it. But because engineers can get around almost any rule, they’ve found a way to do just that. Read on for more about how it works, why it’s cool, and what it means. »

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