Tag: biology

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Welcome mama bears and daddy bears to this the 216th edition of the Harvard Lunch Club political podcast – the Kraft Bears edition of the show – with your unbearable hosts, east coast radio guy Todd Feinburg and west coast AI guy Mike Stopa. We come to you every week with the pithy, the provocative […]

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The Exploding Ants of Borneo

 
Colobopsis explodens. Photo credit: Zookeys / Alexey Kopchinskiy

Yes, you read that headline correctly. And while the claim of something so fantastic begs disbelief, these ants really do exist. However unsettling the idea of their existence might be, I consider even more unsettling the unlikely and downright obtuse path that I took to first read about them. Let me explain.

Like many people, I make New Year’s Resolutions. And like many, I hold to them with varying degrees of success. This year, one resolution that I made was said simply enough: finish all outstanding projects before starting new ones. In practice, to a great extent, this resolution explains my relative absence from this forum.

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Well…unintentionally anyway. More

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I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Sunday. When it appears, I post the previous week’s review on Ricochet. Seawriter More

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Making Pandemic Viruses from Scratch, for Dummies

 
By Photo Credit: James GathanyContent Providers(s): CDC - This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #7988.Note: Not all PHIL images are public domain; be sure to check copyright status and credit authors and content providers.English | Slovenščina | +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1314479
Photo Credit: James Gathany, Public Domain. Dr. Terrence Tumpey examines a reconstructed version of the 1918 flu.

With the rapid pace of shiny new discoveries in the biotechnology sector, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there are some pretty incredible technologies which have been around for quite some time now but have fallen off the public’s collective radar. One example is something I have done hundreds of times in my career but still seems impossible to those outside of the field: creating a flu virus from scratch. Not mutating an existing virus to make a new strain, but creating an infectious virus from whole cloth using nothing but common, commercially-available laboratory materials. And not just any strain, but the equal ability to make a harmless laboratory strain or reconstitute the 1918 “Spanish” flu.

And this technique is not just limited to the influenza virus: to date, the ability to reconstitute infectious virus from common, innocuous, non-infectious materials – known in the business as “reverse genetics” – exists for dozens of different types of viruses, including (but certainly not limited to) influenza, poliovirus, HIV, hepatitis B and C, SARS, rabies, measles, Ebola, Dengue, West Nile, and on and on. The ability to artificially create a virus is a powerful tool for researchers, as it allows us to create new variants and see what effects a targeted mutation may have, as well as being able to design new strains with more favorable properties for use as vaccines.

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We have come a long way in understanding the oceans since the Jacques Cousteau books I perused as a child by the Gulf of Mexico. But there remains much we don’t know. Too much. More

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I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Sunday. (This week’s was printed on Wednesday.) When it appears, I post the previous week’s review on Ricochet. More

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I’m finally sorta breaking the fourth wall of Ricochet. Tomorrow (Jan 30) at 1PM EST I’ll be hosting a live Google Hangout with Dr. Rob Carlson for one of my clients, the Public Library of Science (more commonly known as PLOS). I manage their Synthetic Biology Community page and do some small-scale writing for them. […]

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The Abortion Debate Is Not About When Life Begins

 

shutterstock_139005974January 22, 2015 marks the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, yet the abortion discussion remains mired in confusion. The debate is too often framed as a debate over “when life beings.” That misleading phrasing obscures the two distinct questions, one biological and one philosophical, at the heart of the issue.

The biological question is not open to reasonable dispute. As shown below, an embryo created through human reproduction is indisputably a living member of the human species. Even many of the most ardent pro-choicers acknowledge this. The philosophical question is the real point on which pro-lifers and pro-choicers disagree. That question explores when a living human obtains full human rights. Is every living human entitled to human rights, or is there another requirement? Asking the question in that matter clarifies the actual dispute between pro-lifers and pro-choicers.

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I don’t want to distract from Tom Meyers’ contraception thread by asking this question there, as it’s only peripherally related. It’s a simple question, but I suspect that the answer is not so simple. Even now, decades after “the pill” became a normal regimen for young women whether they are sexually active or not, do […]

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The human body is comprised of countless living cells. Are all of the cells which shape and operate the body necessarily parts of that body? May they all be called human cells? Or are some better classified as non-human symbiotes, even if they exist within the human body? Does it matter if a single-celled organism […]

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Hints at the Origin of Life?

 

This truly isn’t meant to be a stick in the eye for creationists/anti-evolutionists. This post is about a scientific breakthrough that is remarkably fascinating.

Scientists have accidentally discovered metabolic pathways mediated by non-organic molecules. The same process that occurs in cells, glycolysis, has been observed being “catalysed by metal ions rather than the enzymes that drive them in cells today.” And “many of these reactions could have occurred spontaneously in Earth’s early oceans.”

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