Blobologist-approved Reads: Cochineal, simple genomes, complex gene networks and G-spots

My ScienceSeeker picks for this week: Sleep-deprived, fat & happy post-ExperimentalBiology2012 Edition

Experimental Biology 2012 is done. Science was consumed, poems were read, tweets were twote, the Pacific ocean was greeted, food and beverages were consumed in startling quantities, and now I’m in my hotel room, free to tell you what I think you should read.

  • To get you in the mood, you could start with A tale of two G-spots, a guest post at the Scientific American network by Ricki Lewis.  Yesterday, the news was out that someone claimed to have found the mysterious female ‘G-spot by dissection of a single elderly woman. Lewis dissects these claims with some respectable skepticism and some not-so-respectable bedroom humor, and tells the back story of a particularly bizarre erratum to the journal publication. I should warn you that I enjoyed the post but was also pretty grossed out.

“The stretched-out grapes measured 8.1 mm by 1.5-3.6 mm, and were 0.4 mm tall – a little like what comes out when my cat sneezes.”

  • Next, you should try Coffee, Bugs and Death, John Rennie’s lament for the passing of the pink bugs in Starbucks beverages and the disappointment of discovering you can’t die from drinking too much coffee.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I beg of you, let us not spurn cochineal casually. It is a proud, magnificent tradition that we honor when we drink our heroic flagons of strawberry frappuccino.”

Please don’t disrespect cochineal until you’ve read this post.

(On the topic of poor, maligned cochineal, Bug Girl also has a great post on the heinous taxonomy crime of news reports constantly calling the cochineal scale insect a ‘beetle’. Feel the rage.)

  • Now that you’re lubricated, enjoy the brilliant Pixelating the Genome, by Christina Agapakis. She describes the simple, stripped back gene clusters that are being re-engineered by synthetic biologists from the complex ones that were made by natural selection. Agapakis imagines this kind of bio-re-design as the synthetic biology equivalent of the ‘New Aesthetic’ design tag. Instead of the ‘eruption of the digital into the physical,’ it is the ‘eruption of the digital into the living.”

“The DNA code of the nitrogen fixation gene cluster was sequenced, the sequence was edited and modeled in a computer, redesigned according to engineering principles and put back into the cell, functioning in a clearer but less robust way. We gain control but we lose function.”

“It also simplifies evolution; small, simple changes can lead to dramatic novelties. Zap, one mutation can lead to an abrupt saltational change.”

I know, I know, there are diagrams and genes and stuff, it looks hard, but trust me, it’s worth it. Just wait ’til you get to the last picture.


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