Biology

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. »

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... »

What Can You Tell From a Color-Coded Chromosome?

What Can You Tell From a Color-Coded Chromosome?

In an article published earlier this month, researchers color-coded cells based on which of two X-chromosomes they expressed resulting in beautiful images of marbleized cells like the one above. They are undeniably beautiful; but they also rely on complicated biological pathways and illuminate processes at play in every mammalian female. How does this work, what does it show, and how would it be u... »

Aging, Metabolism, and Basic Biology

Aging, Metabolism, and Basic Biology

I’m really happy when a plan comes together, which means when my general plan of “talk about science journalism and cut through some of the hype” converged with a new year’s resolution plan of “summarize papers regularly on MAL”, I was thrilled. There’s an article recently published in Cell that’s actually quite cool, and it’s being picked up i... »

Battle of the Sexes: Why Mammals Won’t Lose the Y.

Battle of the Sexes: Why Mammals Won’t Lose the Y.

An Op-Ed by Maureen Dowd trying to explain conflicting predictions about the fate of the Y chromosome sent me on an eye-rolling spree. It fits the cultural zeitgeist, I suppose; the image of a war between the genders. Something about women coldly calculating that men are an evolutionary waste of space (due to their inability to bear children) and doing away with the gender. This fact, coupled with... »

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