The Loom

Archives for August, 2006

The textbook explanation of DNA goes something like this: enzymes in our cells read a stretch of DNA and convert its code into a single-stranded RNA molecule, which is then used by ribosomes as a template for building a protein. That stretch of DNA biologists call a gene. The protein it encodes drifts off to…

The Origin of the Ridiculous

Whales are beautifully ridiculous. They are majestic divers, in some cases plunging nearly two miles underwater. And yet sooner or later they must rise back to the surface to breathe air. They breathe through a rather ridiculous-looking hole on top of their head. Unlike fish, which often reproduce by spraying millions of eggs and swimming…

Can a tumor become a new form of life? This is the freaky but serious question that arises from a new study in the journal Cell. Scientists from London and Chicago have studied a peculiar cancer that afflicts dogs, known as canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT) or Sticker’s sarcoma. It is a cancer of immune…

Cystic Fibrosis? Blame Eve

Last night, as my family settled into a three-hour drive home, I began scanning the AM radio dial. The tuner stopped at on a well-produced segment in which the announcer was talking about recent evolution of pigmentation genes and lactose-digestion genes in humans. This is a surprise, I thought, and I settled in for a…

I’m heading out of blog contact for a couple days, so allow me to share one of my favorite posts, from last January–on wasps that perform brain surgery.

This morning the Kansas State Board of Education is all shook up. Last year the board voted 6-4 for much-criticised, creationism-friendly science education standards. Yesterday the primaries for the board elections took place, and on balance, the science-standards bloc lost two seats to Republic opponents. So it looks as if the balance is going to…

Once again, I hear the siren song of Toxoplasma, the parasite that dwells in the brains of 50 million Americans. Toxoplasma gondii is an extraordinary creature, whose exploits I’ve chronicled in previous posts , an article in the New York Times and my book Parasite Rex. This single-celled organism has a life cycle that takes…

Alchemy Without The Shame

John Noble Wilford has a long, interesting article in today’s New York Times on the rehabilitation of the alchemist. Once the icon of the bad old days before the scientific revolution, alchemy has been emerging in recent years as more of a proto-science. Indeed, a fair number of the heroes of the scientific revolution were…