Book Review: Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life

Hubby and I have been busy little bees thanks to both of us having to  present at our lab meetings last week and with my students having an upcoming exam. We apologize for the lack of blog activity. Here is a book review for you.

Today, I review Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life by Marcus Wohlsen. I was initially drawn to this book because science in a research lab at a university can be quite the expensive endeavor. I mean thousands and thousands of dollars to run a lab. You just can’t do science because you enjoy it. You end up having to beg for money from the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health in hopes that you will have the money to pay for lab materials, care for research animals, and possibly employ a post-doctoral scientist in you lab. It’s a daunting task. So, I wanted to read about how scientists were doing the sort of science I do every day, but in their garage.

The book starts out with a story of Kay Aull, a woman whose father was diagnosed with the disease of hemochromatosis. It is a common hereditary disease, but is often tricky to diagnose because its symptoms resemble many other health problems. Genetic testing for this disease is expensive, and insurance companies often won’t pay for the test until other disease possibilities have been ruled out. Aull wanted to see if she could develop a genetic test for the disease at home. Aull had the know how since she attended MIT and worked for a DNA synthesis company. She constructed a lab in the closet of her small apartment. She was able to determine that she carried the mutation for the disease, allowing her knowledge that could be valuable if future health issues arose.

This ingenuity and desire to make science more accessible is at the heart of this book. The above story is one of many about biopunks who want biology to be something anyone has the ability to do at home, from guys who want to develop field tests for infectious diseases in developing countries, to a woman who wants to have an at home test for melamine contamination. The book also shares stories about some of history’s earliest biopunks, including Lady Montagu, who played around with early inoculations for smallpox.

The risk of being a biopunk is also discussed. This poorly understood sect of individuals become closely watched due to the threat of bioterrorism. People are afraid of what these folks could be cooking up in their homes. In fact, the FBI has a liaison that attends biopunk conferences in order to build relationships with the community.

Overall, this book is an interesting read. It’s nice that there are people out there who want to make science accessible and affordable. Who knows what types of innovations are being cooked up in someone’s garage?

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Getting serious about science

There is a great opinion article from Sunday’s Washington Post by Congressman Jim Cooper and the chief executive of AAAS, Alan Leshner. It basically says the United States needs to get serious about science. We are investing a smaller share of our economy in our research efforts than seven other countries, including Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.  We also have several Congressman who are ready to mock research projects that have an odd name. However, several important discoveries have resulted from research projects with funny names. Also, many people do not realize that by increasing funding to research agencies such as the NSF and NIH, not only are you the taxpayer funding good research that goes through a scrutinizing round of reviews, but you are also helping give post-docs and grad students jobs. You are also helping Primary Investigators buy equipment for their lab, which more often than not comes from U.S. companies, thus in turn helping the U.S. economy. So, tell your congress person that you think funding research is important!!!

Read the full Washington Post article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/its-time-to-get-serious-about-science/2012/09/09/5b5c1472-f129-11e1-892d-bc92fee603a7_story.html

Fun Fish Fact Friday: The Anglerfish and sexy time

Anglerfish are pretty gruesome looking deep sea fish. They get their name from the filament growing out of their head that looks like a fishing lure. This lure is from a modified dorsal fin spine and often contains a fleshy bit at the end that has bioluminescent bacteria.

Anyway, we are here to talk about anglerfish sexy time. In one group of angler fish, the Ceratioids, the males and females have an unusual way of going about sexy time. You see, male ceratioids are small little guys with a powerful sense of smell. His only purpose in life is the find a female. So, using  his powerful sense of smell, he searches a female out. When he finds her, he doesn’t want to loose her, so he bites onto her. And then he releases an enzyme that dissolves his lips and the skin of the female. They end up fusing together down to the level of blood vessels. Then the male literally begins to waste away. He loses his digestive organs, eyes, heart, brain, everything until he basically becomes just  a pair of gonads sticking out the side of the female. These male gonads will release sperm in response to female hormonal changes which indicate the release of eggs. Females are often found with multiple “males” hanging off of them. Crazy, right!!! Look at the pics below.

Female anglerfish with male hanging off of her back. Photo found here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/rss/podcasts/weirdfins/anglerfish.htm

Up close photo of male on female’s back.

The Oatmeal has a hilarious take on this in comic form. You can check it out here: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/angler

 

Democrats remove specific reference to ‘God’ from official platform but retain numerous references to “faith,” “religion,” and “church.”

CNN Political Ticker

(CNN) – Democrats omitted the word “God” from their 2012 platform, a change from the party’s 2008 document and a noticeable split from Republicans, who mention God ten times in their official party stance.

In 2008, Democrats wrote, “We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”

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Book Review: The Facts, by Philip Roth

The Facts is the autobiography of novelist Philip Roth.  If you’ve never read Roth, you should.  He’s famous for writing semi-autobiographical novels that are outrageously candid and extremely funny.  He has an ease and confidence about writing that allows him to create people and places that are simply aliveso alive, in fact,  that readers are often left wondering where fiction ends and reality begins. In The Facts, Roth attempts to lay out the real facts of his life as he seems them. But, as the book’s last chapter underscores, autobiography can never reveal the truth as candidly or interestingly as fiction can. Continue reading