Monday, June 9, 2008

Activate that Junk DNA!!!!

Genes and pseudogenes buried in our "Junk DNA" have a function! HERE to know more!

via Sandwalk

Image source: Flickr CC

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Languages and genomes

While looking through Technorati I stumbled on this blog post..."Litterature - Can languages be understood by treating them like genomes?". That caught my attention because a few years ago, while teaching population genetics at Carleton University in Ottawa I told my students about this tribe on Vancouver Island: The Nuu-Chah-Nulth. I have great respect for the first nations and I wanted my students to learn from an anthropological point of view, not just through a stretch of nucleotides. While doing my research for my course I found a few articles including this one: Gene flow across linguistic boundaries in native North American populations.

Using statistical methods and mtDNA analysis, the authors found that language can in fact be replaced (or modified) faster than mutations can occur because language can be transmitted in a vertical fashion (just like DNA) as well as horizontally between unrelated people. Because first nations have been subjected to tremendous pressures through the centuries it is plausible to think that at times DNA might have evolved at different speeds when compared to language evolution depending on the tribe.

A few highlights:

  • The Navajo and Apache, who reside in the Southwest, have high nucleotide diversities, in the range of nucleotide diversities in populations classified as Amerind speaking.
  • Several sites were polymorphic only in populations classified as Amerind-speaking, but none occurred in all populations attributed to Amerind.
  • With respect to Greenberg’s three language families, the average nucleotide diversity within populations is low in Eskimo-Aleut populations and high in Amerind populations. However, nucleotide diversity varies considerably among the populations classified as Na-Dene-speaking.
  • The Alaskan Athabascan and Haida populations, who reside in the North, have low
    nucleotide diversities, in the range of nucleotide diversities in the Eskimo-Aleut-speaking populations.
When reading through the blog, I slowly realize that the author is a believer of intelligent design** and that, like all ID proponents, he decides to include some no-so-objective-god-related-stuff in his blog. Here's what he states while trying to explain why languages can not be understood the same way a DNA sequence can:
"The problem is that languages are fully teleological, whereas the tools of molecular phylogeny do not acknowledge teleology in genomes."
In other words...God created the do not even try to study them with objective techniques!

**Silly me...the title of the Blog site is: Literature - A discussion of ID-relating reading

Also published on my other site:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Let's get serious!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Human 2.0 Olympics

Oscar Pistorius is a double-amputee South African athlete. I admire anyone that rises above life's challenges. I admire anyone that becomes a model for others. I admire anyone that decides they can do anything they want to. I really do! Oscar Pistorius is one of these humans that decides an obstacle is just obstacle! I admire that! So much, you have no idea.

Despite this admiration I could only agree with The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) decision to not allow him to compete in the Olympics. I really think his prosthetics give him an unfair advantage over the other athletes. Although I agree with that decision, I find it quite ironic that he has an "unfair" advantage....interesting when you think many of these athletes are using performance-enhancing much for fairness!

This decision was overturned by the The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). I think this is a mistake and lack of courage from the CAS. How far will that go? The door is now open to Human 2.0 Olympics where genetically-modified cyborgs will compete. The Olympics will now become an ideal that is even farther than it ever was before for kids.

To get a spot on the start line in Beijing, Pistorius has to qualify but many doubt he will make it, apparently he is not in the shape he should be for that ultimate racing exerience. This does not matter wheter he makes it or not....the damage is done!

Also published on my other blog: Biological Obsessions

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Blurred Lines

A British Columbian monument is on the brink of extinction and it appears humans may be the catalyst for the acceleration of the evolutionary process yet again. According to researches from the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University and the Salmon Coast Field Station in Echo Bay, BC, infestations of the parasitic sea lice are contaminating salmon fish farms and proving fatal to wild stocks. It’s predicted wild pink salmon will be reduced to 99% of their present population in just four salmon generations or approx 8 years! The crustaceans attach themselves to the exterior of the salmon feeding on tissues, blood, and muscle; eventually resulting in death. Not surprisingly, juvenile populations are at most risk.

This bleak picture is a staggering realization of humans ever growing foot print. The bottle neck effect that these salmon farms could create will have devastating effects on the genetic diversity of local populations. And the most shocking angle of this study is it’s noted as an avoidable catastrophe.
Implementing legislation that will move farms from migration routes and replacing net pens with closed containment compounds will clean up the surrounding aquatic environment and ensure any parasitic threats are isolated from wild stocks. This, of course, comes at a price and owners are not keen on watching profits diminish and operating costs increase. It appears the moral line between profit, government and the environment continues to blur.


The need for medical professionals to study evolution

Evolution has a significant rule in human lives which makes it an important fact for medical professionals to understand evolution. The entire basis of evolution started “millions of years a go when life began spontaneously in a pond, and became more complex and it came to the point of the survival of the fittest”. Those who were less fit, injured or unable to adapt did not accompany evolution. Humans are the result of this process. Humans too adapt to certain environment and these days medical professionals are not really taught evolutionary explanations for “why our bodies are vulnerable to certain kinds of failures.” Existence of wisdom teeth, having genes that cause bipolar disease, and not knowing why appendix is still there?

There are lots of reasons where there is a need for understanding evolution in terms of medical field. Cancer is a good example of natural selection among cells in human body. Antibiotic resistance in today’s world also has brought up a lot of issues and concerns in medicine and showing evolution of microorganisms. Understanding spread of antibiotic resistance and its origin is another question of evolution. The more medical doctors and personals are aware of this issue there is a better chance to stop the abuse of antibiotics.

There are many reasons why it is hard to convince medical practitioners to embrace evolution in the nature of science. “Evolutionary hypotheses about human physiology are notoriously hard to investigate, given humans’ long generation times” thus giving a hard time to medial professionals.

I believe that every body especially doctors need to understand evolution to be able to help humans to stop antibiotic abuse, know the evolution process of other animals and how close we are related to other animals to find cures for diseases, evolution of our immune system is part of population genetics and natural selection.

This is a very broad topic with lots of other reasons that all needs to be reviewed and learned by our fellow medical precisionist for the hope of better care, cure and understanding human evolution.

Frogs and Amphibians getting closer to extinction

Scientists at the Zoological Society of San Diego have taken special note of the serious decline in the population of frogs and other amphibians in the last 30 or so years. Amphibians are often studied by scientists in order to gage environmental wellness because they are so sensitive to environmental changes. Amphibians can exist on both land and in the water and therefore they experience changes in both of these environments. However, scientists are becoming increasingly concerned because over 120 species of amphibians have now become extinct. We can guess at the main reasons for this decline in amphibian population. Scientists believe that changes in climate, pollution and diminishing habitats are the main threats to these creatures. The scientists at San Diego also point out that chytrid infections, caused by fungus can have a fatal affect on frogs. Frogs need the ability to respire through their skin and this disease affects this ability. One way to help the frog and amphibian populations is to create conservation programs for various species. This is being done by many concerned groups including the scientists at the San Diego Zoo. San Diego provided information about all of these topics in an article published by the Zoological Society of San Diego on their website. This article is entitled "A World without Frogs?". I personally believe that if we don't do everything we can to preserve the amphibian population we will be loosing a very valuable scientific resource. Not to mention, the devastating effects this could have on the "circle of life" as a whole. As previously stated, frogs provide us with very valuable information when it comes to the current health of the environment. Maybe if we can continue to study frogs and other creatures like them we can gain a better understanding of how to help the entire planet, not just one area, group, or species.