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Greetings ScienceBlogs readers, and welcome to this week’s edition of the Life Science and Physical Science Channel updates! I’m Arikia Millikan, your local Sb intern, and I’ll be providing commentary on today’s “best of.”


Life Science channel photo. A model representing the molecular structure of a DNA double helix. From Flickr, by net_efekt

Life Science

October 27,2008—Ed Yong from Not Exactly Rocket Science is back from vacation! As a souvenir to readers, he has posted a bit on peer-reviewed research into a unique cave-dwelling bacteria that exists in isolation of all other species, a rarity in the biosphere.

Most of the planet’s ecosystems are made of a multitude of different species, rich tangles of living things all interacting, competing and cooperating in order to eke out an existence. But not always – in South Africa, within the darkness of a gold mine, there is an ecosystem that consists of a single species, a type of bacteria that is the only thing alive in the hot, oxygen-less depths. It is an ecosystem of one, living in complete isolation from the Sun’s energy.

Sounds like aliens to me. But whatever it is and however it came to exist, this finding is a good reminder of the endless diversity on our planet.

October 26, 2008—Halloween is only days away, and as an arachnophobic, these posts by GrrlScientist from Living the Scientific Life: Scientist Interrupted and John Wilkins from Evolving Thoughts of a very large Golden Orb Spider devouring a bird that became trapped in its web, gave me a premature bone chill. But Wilkins and some readers not afflicted by anxiety in the presence of spiders chimed in to remind us that the spider making a meal out of the unlucky finch is a natural reaction and shouldn’t cause the spiders to be demonized, no matter how creepy they are.

October 23, 2008—The Personal Genome Project has been working towards its goal of posting the sequenced genomes of 100,000 of individuals online, saying it would posting ten genomes last week. In light of this, Daniel MacArthur from Genetic Future wrote some posts critical of the project’s approach, knocking it for only following through with posting four of the ten anticipated genomes and lacking coverage and meaning in the sequencing itself.

My biggest question is this: can genome sequence data really be said to be publicly available when it’s dumped on the web in a flat text file without any gene annotation or explanation regarding its format? This isn’t really “demystifying genomics.”

MacArthur also wrote a post on PGP participant James Watson’s attempt to exclude a segment from his genome that codes for late-onset Alzheimers. Researchers were able to deduce Watson’s Alzheimer status from looking at related sequences, bringing MacArthur to question:

Are there genes [the participants] should be hiding? If so, how much sequence do they need to delete? Ultimately, how do projects like the PGP reconcile the desire for partial genome privacy with the need to get sequences out there in the public domain to further genomic research?


Physical Science channel photo. The inclined plane is one of the most “simple machines” of physics. From Flickr, by zaxl4

Physical Science

October 24, 2008—An interesting take on cryptography from Dave Bacon at The Quantum Pontiff, criticizing Bruce Schneier’s musings in this issue of Wired Magazine:

There are a lot of good points about the article, but it left me kind of scratching my head. As far as I can tell Bruce Schneier believes that you should not worry about any cryptographic system currently in use ever being broken. I didn’t think cryptographers were allowed to have so little paranoia.

This post drew an onslaught of reader reactions defending Schneirer’s stance. This blogger/writer exchange of ideas embodies the beauty of science blogging.

October 23, 2008—ScienceBlogger Janet from Adventures in Science and Ethics wrote a charming post about the meaning and practical application of a mole and Avogadro’s Number in honor of Mole Day.

October 23, 2008—Given the imminent climate crisis looming over the heads of Earthly residents, it is important for all potential solutions to be explored. But James Hrynyshyn from The Island of Doubt posits on a piece about peer-reviewed research that some of the “band-aide variety” solutions may come with risks that should be given ample consideration before trying them out.

Some would argue that we have to take the chance, so close are we to irrevocable tipping points, and so unlikely are we to voluntarily stop burning the fossil fuels that are the cause of the problem. But given the choice between doing what we know with a high degree of confidence will slow global warming—shut down the coal-fired plants and so forth—and running wild with some hairbrained scheme to reset the planet’s thermostat, I’ll choose the first option, even if the political challenge involved is enormous.

That’s all folks. Check back tomorrow for updates on the Environment and Humanities & Social Science channels.


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    October 28, 2008