Molecular Biology

Pharyngula

Category archives for Molecular Biology

Dan Graur has suggested some changes to the classification of DNA. It’s one more pile of terminology to keep straight, but the distinctions are conceptually useful — I particularly appreciate literal vs. indifferent DNA as subdivisions of functional DNA. The pronouncements of the ENCODE Project Consortium regarding “junk DNA” exposed the need for an evolutionary…

On the importance of luck

That paper that proposed that most cancers were due to bad luck, that is, that they were a consequence of biological factors that could not be controlled, has been surprisingly controversial. I thought it was a fairly unsurprising paper that confirmed what we already suspected, but wow, the furious pushback has been something to behold.…

Let’s slap ENCODE around some more

Since we still have someone arguing poorly for the virtues of the ENCODE project, I thought it might be worthwhile to go straight to the source and and cite an ENCODE project paper, Defining functional DNA elements in the human genome. It is a bizarre thing that actually makes the case for rejecting the idea…

Ophelia has summarized a series of science questions Richard Dawkins asked on Twitter. Hey, I thought, I have answers to lots of these — he probably does, too — so I thought I’d address one of them. Maybe I can take a stab at some of the others another time. I like this one, anyway:…

Dang, I teach all this stuff about genes and chromosomes and epigenetics, but I don’t have the advantage of giant floating holographic molecules floating around me. Maybe I’ll have to steal this for my classes. Although it could use some discussion of Blaschko’s lines, to explain why you get a stripey pattern rather than just…

Deconstructing metaphors

Oh, that’s right — that’s what philosophers are good for. They’re really good at questioning models. John Wilkins has been busily dismantling the cheap and easy metaphors we use to describe molecular biological concepts in a series of posts, taking on genes as language, other popular gene myths and metaphors, and explaining why genes aren’t…

How kinesin actually moves

Recently, Carl Zimmer made a criticism of the computer animations of molecular events (it’s the same criticism I made 8 years ago): they’re beautiful and they’re informative, but they leave out the critical aspect of stochastic behavior that is important in understanding the biochemistry. He’s talking specifically about kinesin, a transport protein which the animators…

The reification of the gene

Razib Khan poked me on twitter yesterday on the topic of David Dobbs’ controversial article, which I’ve already discussed (I liked it). I’m in the minority here; Jerry Coyne has two rebuttals, and Richard Dawkins himself has replied. There has also been a lot of pushback in the comments here. I think they all miss…

Remedial reading for big-time scienticians

I don’t understand how this happens. You’ve got a good academic position. You’re bringing in reasonable amounts of grant money. You’re publishing in Nature Genetics and Nature Structural and Molecular Biology. And you don’t even understand the basic concepts in your field of study. For instance, here’s a press release titled “Cause of genetic disorder…

Last month, I wrote about the terrible botch journalists had made of an interesting paper in which tweaking regulatory sequences called enhancers transgenically caused subtle shifts in the facial morphology of mice. The problem in the reporting was that the journalists insisted on calling this a discovery of a function for junk DNA — the…