Why your college genetics class sucks

A college lecture hall — just look at all the excited faces.
From greatcollegeadvice.com

Although I am now a practicing geneticist, I hated genetics when I was in school.  My Genetics 101 course followed the same syllabus that colleges all around the country use, a historical outline that emphasizes discovery — the discovery of phenotypic variation (Mendel and his wrinkled peas), the discovery of DNA and its structure (Watson and Crick and Franklin), the discovery of genetic mutation (in Mendel’s case, a disruptive insertion within the rugosus gene).  We’re presented a top-down view of genetics from phenotype (wrinkled versus smooth) to genotype (mutation in rugosus) that should compel us to ask “Why?”  But before the bell ever rings on that first day, most students already know that the answer to this question.  “Why?” lies somewhere in our DNA and we don’t want to discover it all over again.  And, unfortunately, this historical top-down approach doesn’t increase our understanding of genes in the age of whole-genome sequencing.  In response to this problem,  PLoS Biology published the short article, “Why Do We Have to Learn This Stuff?  A New Genetics for 21st Century Students.”  In it, Dr. Rosemary Redfield describes the problems of current genetic courses and offers her own remedies. Continue reading


Everything is Illuminated: Restoration of vision after transplantation of photoreceptors

ResearchBlogging.orgThe retina is a paper-thin layer of tissue found at the back of the eye that allows us to see light.  Without a retina (or the cells that make it up), we’re blind.  Because mutations that cause the retina to break-down affect nearly 1 in 4,000 people world-wide, researchers eagerly study new ways to treat this condition.  So far, they have identified over 50 genes that, when mutated, cause retinal degeneration and blindness.  In fact, some of the earliest successes in gene therapy involved cases of retinal degeneration and blindness. Now researchers are trying something new: retinal transplants, or physically moving cells from healthy eyes to those that are unhealthy.  In a recent study published by Pearson et al. (2012) in Nature (not open-access, sorry), researchers moved rod photoreceptor cells from healthy mice to those that suffered from night-blindness and — boom! — restored vision to the mice. They even have a cool video. Continue reading

The two body problem: Academia and Marriage

Hello readers!! In addition to our regular topics here at darwinbookcats, I thought it would be nice to give you a glimpse into the life of academia. Unless you are actively in the thick of it, you may not quite understand what it is all about. Also, no one really warns you about the ups and downs of it beforehand, so maybe I’ll help better inform some people who are thinking about getting into this wonderful/crazy life.

I don’t think many people realize the struggles that academic couples go through to balance finding the perfect job and maintaining a happy family life. I thought I would provide a little insight into that today.

Hubby and I are both scientists. He has completed his PhD and I’m working on finishing mine in a year (fingers crossed). We both want careers at the university level and as a result we run into what is known as the “two body problem”. Two qualified scientists looking for two jobs in the same geographic area where two jobs usually aren’t available. Continue reading

Hello and Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Hi All,

I’m super excited to be joining my husband here at Darwinbookcats in an effort to have content published daily. I’ll be bringing you posts approximately three times a week about books, national parks, and bears as I move content over from the three previous blogs I maintained. I also plan on starting to write more about science as time goes on. So, I’ll dive right into my first entry, which combines science and books.

I TA Genetics in the fall under the direction of my research advisor, who teaches the lecture portion of the class. One of the things that my research advisor does for the class is require students to write a movie review, a book review, and a creative writing assignment. One of the books that students can read is the book I’m reviewing today, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I first heard about this book on NPR and had really wanted to read it. I’m so glad I finally did because this is a damn good book. Even if you don’t know a lot about biology, the human aspect of the story absolutely will absolutely hook you. Continue reading

Writing is Hard

I am writing this week.  A large part of scientific work is actually writing — writing grants or results or simply writing protocols — but I am also dealing with fiction, too.  And when I’m left staring at a blank page for this many projects, I can only think of one thing:

Continue reading

TIME’s List of the Best Science Reads

Here at darwinbookcats I celebrate some of the best things in life: scienceliterature, and cats.  Now TIME celebrates the best of two of these worlds with its list of the All-TIME 100 Best Nonfiction Books, including the Best Science Books.  The list includes some terrific reads, including The Double Helix by biologist James Watson, and The Selfish Gene by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.  Enjoy! Continue reading

John Huntsman on Evolution: Call Me Crazy, But I Accept It!

The GOP presidential candidates have been in a race to announce either their acceptance or skepticism of scientific topics like evolution and global climate change.  I’ve previously commented on both Michelle Bachmann’s and Rick Perry’s stance on evolution.  Both Bachmann and Perry support teaching Intelligent Design Creationism in public schools, and so I’ve dumbed them IDiots.  Well, now former Utah Governor and US Ambassador John Huntsman made his position known via Twitter — and you’re in for a surprise! Continue reading