How many genes?

Alright, so today is the day that I tell you all about my first scientific publication. I hope to explain it in a manner that you can understand with a basic knowledge of biology. Hopefully this post will put me in a good enough mood to work on writing my second paper, which I’m supposed to be doing this week.

Alright, so the goal of my first paper was to answer one question “How many genes causes differences in pigmentation traits?”. I am specifically interested in male pigmentation because 1) Males are more colorful than females when it comes to cichlids and 2) Because male color is thought to be important when it comes to females choosing mates. Continue reading

Old Misconceptions Die Hard: Scientific knowledge suppresses but does not supplant earlier intuitions

ResearchBlogging.orgTeachers operate on the assumption that students are “empty vessels” they can fill with new information.  But many students begin classes with assumptions about the world that, although intuitive, are actually incorrect.  For example, many students incorrectly believe that individuals can evolve or that all members of a species evolve together.  Teachers assume that instruction and testing will make students understand that both of these assumptions are wrong and that only populations evolve.  However, recent research suggests that simply providing students with factual information doesn’t make them drop their faulty assumptions.  As it turns out, old misconceptions die hard.
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Why your college genetics class sucks

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

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

Evolution, Genomics, and J. Craig Venter’s Vision for Your Future

Biologist J. Craig Venter

The Washington Post Magazine published an interesting profile yesterday of biologist J. Craig Venter: “Rad Scientist: Maverick biologist J. Craig Venter is in a race to save the planet.”  The profile discusses Venter’s company Synthetic Genomics, the J. Craig Venter Institute (JVCI), and his recent effort to create a new species of algae that can generate biofuels and process green-house gases.  Venter’s work is truly ground-breaking and will one day change our lives — in fact, it already has (see below).  The article by Susan Okie is terrific and is a must-read for anyone interested in genomics and the future of biotechnology. Continue reading

Rick Perry on Evolution: I’m an IDiot too!

Two months ago, Michelle Bachmann expressed her doubt about the validity of evolution and support for intelligent design.  Well, tea-party candidates must really like this topic, because last week Texas governor Rick Perry said pretty much the same thing.  In an interview with the Associated Press, Perry said: Continue reading

Answers To One Reader’s Questions About Common Ancestry

I get email, albeit rarely.  Last week I received an email from one reader listing four questions about common ancestry.  Since I see questions like these pretty often — either from students or on evolution/creation comment threads — I thought I’d post the questions and their answers for all to see. Continue reading