Adventures in Ethics and Science

Friday Sprog Blogging: mutants.

Dr. Free-Ride: Do you guys have a view on which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Elder offspring: Do you mean the chicken or the chicken egg? Or just the egg the first chicken came out of?

Younger offspring: The first chicken came out of an egg, but it was an egg laid by some other kind of creature.

Dr. Free-Ride: And so, knowing as much as you do, you find no paradox here.

Elder offspring: But the Liar’s Paradox is still a real paradox.


Younger offspring: How did another kind of creature lay eggs that had chickens in them?

Elder offspring: Maybe mutations.

Younger offspring: What does that mean?

Elder offspring: Well, if [Dr. Free-Ride] had another baby that was really tall and had three legs and was green, that would probably be a mutant.

Dr. Free-Ride: One would hope.

Dr. Free-Ride’s better half: OK, so you know what a mutant might be like, but do you know what a mutation is?

Elder offspring: Ummm … I think it has to do with a change in a gene?

Younger offspring: What do genes do?

Dr. Free-Ride: Oh! Oh! Oh! I know this one! Call on me!

Dr. Free-Ride’s better half: (with a pronounced eye-roll) Yes?

Dr. Free-Ride: Genes code for proteins!

Elder offspring: The DNA is where the genes are, and the RNA makes the proteins.

Dr. Free-Ride’s better half: Do you remember the analogy we talked about for the DNA?

Elder offspring: Oh yeah! The DNA is like a cookbook, and each gene is like a recipe.

Younger offspring: So the RNA uses the recipe to know how to cook something?

Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah, but what they’re “cooking” is proteins that make the cells in your body do different things — telling them to be heart cells or muscle cells or skin cells —

Elder offspring: Or scales, or feathers.

Younger offspring: So how does a mutation make it different?

Dr. Free-Ride’s better half: (grabbing a cookbook off the shelf and opening it to a food-stained page) Here’s a recipe, and you can still read all the ingredients and directions pretty clearly. But what if these stains were darker?

Younger offspring: They might cover up some of the words so you couldn’t read what they say.

Dr. Free-Ride’s better half: Uh huh. And how would that affect what you’d make with the recipe?

Elder offspring: It could turn out different.

Younger offspring: Like a mutant.

Dr. Free-Ride’s better half: This recipe calls for two cups of chopped onions, but if the stains covered parts of that line you might think –

Dr. Free-Ride: Two cups of chocolate.

Younger offspring: Yum!

Dr. Free-Ride’s better half: Do you think that would make the recipe better? Or worse?

Elder offspring: Maybe.

Dr. Free-Ride: Given that this is an eggplant recipe, I’m betting on that being a deleterious mutation.

Younger offspring: We’d have to try it to find out.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK, in the interests of science, I’ll see about putting all our recipes in an electronic database that introduces random mutations in the recipes. Then you kids can give me an informed view on whether most recipe mutations are beneficial or harmful.

Elder offspring: So mutations in the DNA are like that, too? They change the recipes that get used to make the organisms.

Dr. Free-Ride: And sometimes it’s a change that ends up being good for the critters in that environment, but sometimes it’s a change that doesn’t work out at all.

Elder offspring: You wouldn’t use that recipe again.

Younger offspring: Did you know that there’s two ways we share genes with mice?

Dr. Free-Ride: Tell me more?

Younger offspring: Well, human DNA and mouse DNA are more than 80% the same.

Elder offspring: Yeah, I think I read that somewhere.

Younger offspring: And, mice can crawl into your jeans pockets and legs!

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s funny!

Younger offspring: Will you use it in the Sprog Blog?

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    February 15, 2008

    Younger offspring: Will you use it in the Sprog Blog?

    Oh, I know this one! Call on me, Call on me!

    QED!QED 111!!! ONE11!!!

  2. #2 Salad Is Slaughter
    February 15, 2008

    Given that this is an eggplant recipe, I’m betting on that being a deleterious mutation.

    Unless you end up with an eggplant with mole sauce recipe.

  3. #3 Alan Kellogg
    February 15, 2008

    [Pedant Mode]Some DNA codes for proteins, other DNA signals the protein coding DNA when to start, when to stop, and how much protein to code. Some times it’s this regulatory DNA that gets changed and so changes when and for how long the protein coding DNA works. This can lead to things such as extra limbs (not helpful) or even a fourth type of color cone in the eye (helpful).[/Pedant Mode]

  4. #4 Alan Kellogg
    February 16, 2008

    Sprogs,

    I’ve decided you’re old enough to understand this, so I’m presenting the deep, dark secret of what DNA does.

    Some DNA sends out instructions for making amino acids, and how those amino acids are to be joined together to make proteins. Other DNA tell the first kind of DNA when to start sending out those instructions, how long to send out those instructions, and when to stop sending out those instructions. Most of the time it works real good, but sometimes you get people with three kidneys. How this all happens is something grown-up scientists are still trying to figure out.

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